By Ali Coad, Senior Editor
“Bad’ & The Birdieman” is a documentary that moves quickly– just as quickly as badminton birdies that the film’s stars rally and serve. In its short 50 minutes, this film turns everything you think you know (which, for me, is very little) about badminton on its ear. In fact, this is not the lazy-Sunday sport I thought it to be. It’s a fast-paced and heated, and for this particular city and these particular players, it’s a spot that offers its young players a way out, a way forward. It’s a quiet revolution for the younger residents of the often-crime-riddled Rio de Janeiro, and “Bad’ & The Birdieman” brings this small movement to light in a big way.
Throughout this film, we meet about half-a-dozen young badminton players, all of whom come from different backgrounds and families and difficulties. Something, however, they all share is their love and drive for this sport. They understand the stakes, and they’re willing to put in the work and focus to realize their dreams. Badminton offers an alternative to gangs and drugs and life on the streets, and with this sport, players are able to travel, win money for their families, play, and discover who they are– which is far more than most of their parents had. It’s more than a game in Rio de Janeiro, it’s a way up.
The best parts of this film come when all the players, the students of the game, dance the samba. The shots are so uniform, so beautiful, and vibrant in their colors and movements. About 30 players dance in four parallel lines. They grip their rackets and their bodies and feet move to the rhythm of the music. It’s so practiced and perfect, no movement out of place. It looks like synchronized swimming, the movements are so calculated. The coaches teach their players this dance in an effort to recognize the culture of their city, but also, and more importantly, because it’s a quick dance, it gets the kids to move their feet quickly, to prepare to play at a higher level of speed and sport.
The film itself isn’t particularly beautiful; there’s nothing extraordinary about the direction or production or camerawork, but the story is enough to move this film forward. From start to end, I was invested in this story, in these kids and their futures.