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(The 2024 Tribeca Film Festival runs June 5-16, and as always, we have many boots on the ground. Check out Matt Delman’s Quad Gods movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

In Jess Jacklin’s ace documentary Quad Gods, one of her subjects quotes Jay Z, “Things happen the way they supposed to happen.” For Richard, Prentice, and Blake, that meant losing the ability to walk. They find solace in video games, which require little physical movement outside of fingers, and for some their mouths (which is fascinating to watch). They decide to take the leap from a hobby to competitive e-sports, joining the Adaptive Rocket League, which levels the playing field a la the Special Olympics, but that doesn’t mean the competition is anything less than elite. The subjects are three-dimensional characters, and we are given insights into their day-to-day challenges. “A staircase is the difference between me and a happy ending.” Quad Gods luckily has a happy ending, although it’s not the typical ending you’d expect from a sports/competition film. Rather Jacklin takes a more humanist approach, painting a portrait of these disabled competitors that is nothing short of inspirational.

Next time you order food delivery, consider that it might arrive via electric wheelchair. When Blake approaches a brownstone, he calls them to say the food is outside. “Can you bring it up?” – “No, I’m in a wheelchair.” The customer is quick to change his tone. Another scene shows them caravaning down a highway, as they are pulled over by police, who provide them an escort. These small moments are heartwarming. Their game of choice is Rocket League, which involves driving vehicles into a big beach ball and scoring in a goal, similar to soccer. Richard’s competitive streak comes out after losing, aggressively questioning his teammates on how serious they are about winning. The most gripping scenes though are not of gameplay but of watching our subjects try out new medical technology that allows them to stand up vertically or even walk with the help of a futuristic exoskeleton.

If Quad Gods gets adapted into a feature film (which it could), Brian Tyree Henry would be perfect casting as Richard. All the subjects frequently drop words of wisdom, clearly facing adversity has made them wiser. In one of the many glass half-full quotes, Blake says after his accident, “I lost one identity, and the real me came out.” Superhuman versions of these characters are illustrated through Tim Fox’s stimulating animation, conveying the unlimited potential that was stolen from them.

While there is a long history of competition docs–too many to name–Quad Gods is more reminiscent of a little indie feature entitled Give Me Liberty (2019). In my review of that film, I referred to the driver of a handicap-accessible van transporting old and disabled folks as ‘chaotic good’. At the end of the Quad Gods, a young quadriplegic boy joins their gaming club, and they teach him how to aim with his mouth, the elders training the n00b. This final scene is a small miracle, conjuring a mix of emotions like sadness, hope, and pride. Though serious gamers may come away unimpressed by their skills, Jacklin’s documentary will certainly make general audiences emote.

– Matt Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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