Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Making It Happen: A Review of the Brizzlepuffs Dossumentary

By Jack Lennard

Doss  (UK slang)
(noun) An easy task or period of time. 
Possibly derived from doddle
(verb) To slack off. 

(quidditch) To describe the Bristol Brizzlepuffs.

A very wise person once said, nothing can build a general disdain for humanity like spending an extended amount of time in the quidditch community. That person was me. It’s safe to say that I am not a sentimental person. So, on paper, the Bristol Brizzlepuffs documentary (Dossumentary? Dossumentary.) was not, perhaps, my cup of tea. Sickly happiness and soppy emotions? I was, shall we say, cynical in my anticipation, but I ended up being won over by a film that captures the dog-eared charm of a real sporting success story, whilst never sacrificing the heart at the expense of glory.

Quidditch film in the UK is having a bit of a golden age. More funding, more volunteers, more coordination, and a greater sense of narrative style have allowed the UK quidditch scene to tentatively hope for the sort of documentary panache that could give a club a particular mainstream boost. It certainly worked for Southampton Quidditch Club, which saw the successful Dark Horses piece released just prior to their overwhelming recruitment campaign before the 2014-15 season, and it looks like TeamUK could gain massive media attention as Triple Hoops Films works to complete a successfully crowdfunded project entitled Fly, hoping to cover the national team’s journey to the 2016 World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany.

At the same time, a balance has to be struck. This is the classic balance that the entire community must face: the one between serious physical coverage and more lighthearted novelty appeal. An increasing number of people are beginning to see the two elements as mutually exclusive. So it was always going to be a central question hanging over a documentary about the UK’s most infamously casual yet successful club.

The club’s founder, Tom Ower, was never shy about his ambitions for the team.

I always really wanted a documentary for the club – it just seemed like a really awesome thing to have, he said before the premiere screening with a sheepish grin.

The club only really took on major triumph after Southern Cup 2015, where the first team, the Bristol Brizzlebears, vanquished the Falmouth Falcons in double overtime to reach the semifinals and qualify for European Quidditch Cup (EQC) 2016.

I realised after Southern [Cup 2015] that there was significant interest in telling this story, Ower said. He met with no fewer than six different filmmakers, but one stood out: Sonia Wargacka.

She was the life and soul of the party, he said. And she spontaneously wanted to come across Europe with us! That helped!

Tom Ower embraces Sonia Wargacka at the Dossumentary Premiere | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Wargacka knows her subject well, and that shines throughout the film. Key members of the team begin the piece by explaining how the club formed, grew, and reached the point it had before EQC 2016. This is cleverly integrated with footage from British Quidditch Cup 2016 to give a complete picture of the club in action both on and off the pitch. It is also supplemented by one of the best animated explanations of the rules seen on the screen to date, and this segment stands out to give the film extra polish and appeal beyond the community itself.

The UK has been lacking high-level sports footage of a Billy Quach level for years, and those hoping that the Dossumentary is the answer to their prayers will be disappointed. The footage of matches is good, but Wargacka is not a professional sports filmmaker. She knows this and works this to her strength, focussing on telling a more complete story and using the on-pitch footage as a supplement to the characters and narratives that emerge as the Brizzlepuffs, known as the Puffs for short, travel to Italy to compete in EQC 2016.

Many will know the story of the Puffs at EQC 2016: how they were drawn into a group of death with Deurne Dodo A and Paris Frog Quidditch, how they celebrated the death of their hopes and dreams with an elaborate and incredibly well-attended funeral, and how they were victorious against all the odds to reach the upper bracket. The documentary tells all this in typically emotional fashion, as one might expect.

But where the film excels is capturing the individual experience of each player as the weekend continued. This ranges from the emotional (One last push. I never thought we’d be here, from Ower) to the bizarre (Different countries smell different, from first-time international traveller Kieran Harris), with everything in between. One particularly poignant moment was when the film focused on those members of the club that have been helped through mental illness by the family offered by the Brizzlepuffs.

The end credits were met with a standing ovation from the Puffs. Of course it did – it’s their story, and the Dossumentary tells it remarkably well.

It was very refreshing, said Ower after the film. An absolute creative masterpiece that sums up the Brizzlepuffs almost perfectly.

At the end of the day, running a quidditch club is an inherently human endeavour. It can be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It can be mystical and yet, somehow, magical, and Wargacka’s Dossumentary captures that in all its glory. It shows how organic success can be, and it shows how it is possible to remain true to a club philosophy whilst pushing players further than ever before.

The club has certainly gone leaps and bounds this year, with the Bears having an astoundingly good result at EQC 2016 and the Bees becoming a significant and sustainable second team. So what template does the Dossumentary offer to other clubs around the world? Perhaps Sam Senior summed it up, and the ambitions of the entire community, in his simple statement during the film.

It just sort of happened, he said. But it happened really, really well.

Rating: 8/10

1 = Hey, have you seen these people playing quidditch while skydiving?!
10 = Imagine the greatest and most emotional sports film you know - then imagine it's about quidditch.

Sonia Wargacka at the Dossumentary Premiere | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
Interview with Sonia Wargacka:
Quidditch Post: Congratulations on the successful premiere! Where next for the Dossumentary?
Sonia Wargacka:  I am hoping to have the final cut done very soon; even though the story is ready, we have aspirations for sending it to short film festivals around the world, so we need to ensure it is the highest quality possible and that includes color grading as well as some more work on sound. The Dossumentary is 30 minutes long and I do believe it tells the Brizzlepuffs’ story in quite a comprehensive way, so there are big ambitions for the distribution of it. I also want it to be seen by as many people in [the] quidditch community as possible, so we will cover that when the time comes – stay tuned!

QP:  What was it about quidditch in particular that made it a story you wanted to tell?
SW:  It was more about the Brizzlepuffs themselves rather than the sport. I met up with them in December 2015 for the first time, and my first thought was This is just such a good story! I was genuinely amused by how they are a bunch of people from very diverse backgrounds gathering together to play a sport without even intending to be good at it – all that matters for them is having a good time. I remember being in high school not so long ago and I always had this need of belonging, I always wanted to be in an amazing team, but most sports attracted a “certain type of people”. And as I was never an athlete, I didn’t feel like I belonged to them. And that was the most important thing for me about Brizzlepuffs: the idea of accepting everyone and making everyone feel like they are an extremely valuable asset to the team. I’d never seen a sport connect people like that before – and I thought “Let’s make this film happen and show others what I’ve seen.”

QP:  Do you think that this documentary will change things inside the sport?
SW:  I think inside the sport people have it pretty much sorted – there is a huge international community, YouTube channels, all social media etc. The way I constructed the Dossumentary, though, was meant to explain quidditch as a sport to a person who has never heard of it before – and make it look so amazing that they want to jump on a broom straight away. Inside the community it might be helpful to explain to family and friends of players what is it that is so wonderful about quidditch and why does it mean so much to them. I believe the story of Brizzlepuffs is quite universal and easy to relate to, so I hope it will be interesting even to those who doubt the magic of the hoops. And by engaging even those who are not interested, by making it accessible to anyone outside the community, the raised awareness about quidditch as a sport might be helpful to those who play it in many different ways. I’ve seen “Mudbloods” on Netflix before, and the problem with that film for me was that I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. With the Brizzlepuffs and the whole quidditch community, I experienced such a feeling of community internationally, people were so friendly, being conscious that it is a bizarre, made-up sport, but in a really good way. It’s not something to be ashamed of.

QP:  What advice would you have for filmmakers in or around other teams thinking of working on similar projects?
SW: I think the sport on its own isn’t enough. If you explain the rules of quidditch to someone, they might find that interesting, but they wouldn’t go further – it’s just rules and equipment. It’s the people that make it interesting, people and their stories. And that’s what I wanted to show in the Dossumentary. You can watch quidditch highlights for 30 seconds, but it needs a story to capture interest for longer. That’s my advice – focus on the people.

QP: Thanks very much, and well done again!

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