Brooms Up! (Larry O’Flahavan, 2011)

“Certain to please Harry Potter fans and people-being-brutally-knocked-to-the-ground aficianados alike.” Johnathan Grey Carter, THE ESCAPIST.

Drafthouse Films LogoOn November 13 and 14, 2010, 46 colleges, 750 players, and 10,000 spectators descended on New York’s Dewitt Clinton Park for the 4th annual Quidditch World Cup, a real life version of the fictional game featured in the Harry Potter books.  Larry O’Flahavan and Boxer Films came to capture the spirit of a game that is sweeping the world.  Somewhere between live-action role-playing, dodgeball, rugby, and team handball is quidditch – a co-ed, contact sport attracting a diverse collection of fans and athletes united by a love of J. K. Rowling’s popular series and the spirit of competition and fair play.  Brooms Up! tackles the unexpected intersect of sport and fan culture and lovingly examines the weird and wonderful world of this unique game.  Your seat in the top box has been reserved.

Special Features:

Chaser Edition – Package Includes:

As the Winter Games at Sochi, Russia, wind up, the eyes of the world turn to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where 80 of the world’s top qualifying quidditch teams compete in the seventh International Quidditch Association World Cup for the right to be called world quidditch champions.  With this momentous occasion just on the horizon, we propose a Drafthouse Films spine number for Larry O’Flahavan and Boxer Films’ documentary Brooms Up!, a short film reviewing the origins of muggle quidditch and documenting the fourth Quidditch World Cup tournament held in New York City.  There, O’Flahavan captures the enthusiasm, athleticism, and excitement that has made muggle quidditch a global … phenomenon … and the single … most …

Wait.  It seems like we might be losing you.  Have you somehow managed to proceed through life without being touched by real-life quidditch?  Never had to buy your niece or nephew a flying broom from Alivan’s?  Never had to use the word “quaffle” to explain a broken collarbone to your family and friends?  Hmmmm.  Let’s take a step back for a moment.

We must admit that we’re not big Harry Potter fans here at MMC!  We do like our sports, however, and the weirder, the better.  Needless to say, the idea that a few students at Middlebury College successfully adapted a fictional sport from a fantasy series that required flying brooms and bone-breaking iron balls was truly magical.  The fact that within a few short years the sport had been taken up by dozens of teams with hundreds of players was astounding.  Brooms Up! does a nice job explaining the origins and rules for quidditch, so we’ll take that for granted.  Instead, it seems worthwhile to consider why muggle quidditch is such a fascinating example of fan culture.  In most cases, we imagine fan culture as something interactive with cultural product, shared with other enthusiasts but ultimately solitary in production and consumption.  Fan fiction, fan art, even cosplay, are ultimately something that fans engage in directly, either producing or consuming it, and only interacting with others to either share the material or discuss its quality.  There are other examples of a more interactive nature, like live-action role-playing or, in the case of Harry Potter fandom, wizard rock performances (bands organized to produce only Harry Potter-themed music).  Still, quidditch is something different from these.  It crosses the line into sport and becomes something convivial and transcendent in its competition.  Players are not pretending to fly, but are focused on scoring points and stymieing opponents.  Once on the field, the broomsticks between their legs are less a cultural artifact and more a rule of the sport, much like the obligation to dribble in basketball.  Quidditch, then, is capable of existing outside of the fan culture; it’s players forgetting notions of patronuses and Dementors as they advance the quaffle up the field.

Brooms Up! complicates this idea of a sport adapted from a fictional source and transcending its fandom by implying that there remains something inherently Potteresque to muggle quidditch and that a true understanding of J. K. Rowlings’ creation is necessary to both succeed and fully appreciate participation in the sport.  Consider Brooms Up!‘s ostensible villains, America’s Finest, an unaffiliated group who saw their school’s team and thought it looked cool and that it would be fun “to beat up on them.”  America’s Finest (an auspicious team name if there ever was one) carries out their goal to “tackle nerds” against Ryerson, only to find themselves shredded by teams from Tufts and Vasser.  O’Flahavan uses America’s Finest as a counterpoint to describe the necessities of teamwork, strategy, and coaching, suggesting that quidditch is a game that allows apparent underdogs (that is, liberal arts colleges captained by precocious young women) to succeed over mook-powered bullying.  More significantly, Broom’s Up! binds these values with the Harry Potter series itself, suggesting that the values of friendship, cooperation, and sacrifice promoted in the books are necessary for success in the sport.  (Alas, America’s Finest seems to have little investment in Harry or his adventures, although they do seem to have sprung for Alivan’s brooms!)  Muggle quidditch therefore represents an unusual form of fandom by having one foot firmly planted in its pop cultural community and the other outside it.  It welcomes those uninitiated to and disinterested with the magic of Hogwarts but reveals itself only those who embrace the enthusiasm of the fan culture and adopt its ethical code, if not the source material’s content.

Consider briefly the IQA’s Title 9¾ designed to ensure the game avoids gender discrimination.  Its “two minimum” rule requires that each team field at least 2 players who identify with a different gender than at least 2 other players.  By constructing a rule that avoids a simplistic gender binary, IQA quidditch seeks to construct a game that is LGBTQ friendly, something that seems all more relevant in today’s world of sport than ever before.  It is worth asking why is muggle quidditch, of all sports and fan cultures, is so far ahead of the curve in promoting such values.

IQA PosterThe Criterion Collection has dropped spine numbers on short films like Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) and Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert (1965), so why couldn’t Drafthouse Films do the same?  To fill out the title, Drafthouse could partner up with the IQA, developing special features and providing a sample of its best matches.  The Austin-based label could also leverage its location to enlist the reigning Quidditch World Cup champions at the University of Texas at Austin to also develop some extra material, particularly with regard to quidditch strategy and gameplay, something that Brooms Up! is thin on.  With no poster to draw on for cover, we’ll share this IQA poster of a potential starting point for a packaging treatment.

Credits:  We’re cobbling this together, imagining some possible extras and assuming a lack of legal action by focusing on the sport and not the source material.  A commentary by O’Flahavan would be beneficial to explain his interest in the project and his take on the sport and its participants.  Deleted scenes, production photos, and interviews would also be helpful to better appreciate the event.  As was noted above, special features developed with the IQA and Texas Quidditch would round out the disc package, making the release clearly about the sport, its play, and its surprising growth to a global phenomena.  And while wizard rock does not feature in Brooms Up!, a sampler would be a fun extra for one of Drafthouse’s superlative premium release packages.  For more on wizard rock, we recommend checking out Josh Koury’s highly enjoyable We Are Wizards (2008).

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