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SXSW Review: We Are Wizards

SXSW Review: We Are Wizards

By Christopher Campbell

Ten-percent of Harry Potter fans are addicts. This is a fact, according to a recent scientific study. But after watching “We Are Wizards,” a documentary about Harry Potter fandom directed by Josh Koury, it seems clear that the study was a waste of time. One only needs to see this film to know that Potterphiles go a little overboard with their love for the boy wizard.

Koury’s film is not simply Trekkies for the Hogwarts set, however. It’s not so much about the obsessed as it is about the inspired; “We Are Wizards” puts the spotlight on those Harry Potter enthusiasts who have turned fandom into a source of creativity. Like most popular franchises, J.K. Rowling’s series of novels and Warner Bros.’ movie adaptations have spawned their share of fan fiction, fansites and podcasts on the web, which has in turn introduced the phenomenon of fans of fans. But considering Pottermania and the Internet exploded at about the same time, the significance of online Potter fandom is huge. Let the multiple lawsuits brought by Rowling and Warners against the fans be a testament to that.

These legal battles have opened up new debates regarding intellectual property and fan loyalty with regards to the (world)wide-open arena of the web. Just last week, in fact, yet another fan was sued for publishing a non-fiction work celebrating the Harry Potter lexicon.The fan vs. copyright angle is an interesting one, but Koury’s focus on the ever-continuing legal issues concerning Pottermania is slight. And that’s probably for the best, because “We Are Wizards” is more entertaining for concentrating on the specific devotees and their outlets rather than on a greater thesis about fan fairness.

Primarily the doc showcases “wizard rock”, a new genre of music influenced by the books and movies in which bands like Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys and Grop perform original songs with lyrics inspired either by actual events from Rowling’s stories or more imaginative ideas spun-off from and about the characters and places in the Potter universe. Many of the 300 known bands have a specific theme; for instance, The Wands, who aren’t in the film, apparently have songs about what its like to be a wand and The Whomping Willow (now The Whomping Willows) writes from the perspective of, yes, a violent, magical tree on the Hogwarts grounds.

While some of the featured bands are merely fun in a novelty gimmicky sort of way and not quite visibly talented (they remind me of the most awful yet hilariously conceived ska bands I encountered in my own days as a different kind of scenester), there are two groups that stand out in We Are Wizards. One is Harry and the Potters, which I had previously heard of and listened to just on the basis that they are a great band with great lyrics — that just so happen to be humorous riffs on things like Harry’s first date with Cho Chan or Harry and Ron’s decision to stay at Hogwarts over the Christmas holiday. Through the doc, though, I’ve also discovered that one of the band’s fraternal singers, the one who goes by “Harry Year 4” (aka Joe DeGeorge), is like a hilarious wizard-rock version of Michael Cera (his assessment of the hardcore music of Grop as being “Cookie Monster stuff” is brilliant). The other group that shines in the film is a self-labeled “Wizard Rock Partridge Family” which includes a dad who’s in The Cedric Diggorys, a mom who goes by DJ Luna Lovegood and two young brothers, aged 7 and 4, who perform together as the punk-tinged (because they can’t sing or play) The Hungarian Horntails.

The non-musical subjects, who aren’t quite as interesting, include Heather Lawver, a young fan who led an international boycott on Potter merchandise aimed against Warner Bros. in response to the studio’s attempt to shut down a number of fansites, Melissa Anelli, an older fan and the editor of mega-fansite The Leaky Cauldron (she also has an upcoming book, and maybe she too will be sued for it), and Brad Neely, a warped cartoonist who is solely a fan of the movies (he’s never gotten around to reading the novels), though seemingly in the way that people are fans of cheap, so-bad-they’re-funny B-level sci-fi movies. Neely has written and recorded an unauthorized audio-novelization of (and alternate soundtrack to) “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” available on CD, which features a lot more cursing and a lot more satirical insight than Rowling would likely appreciate.

There’s also a conservative Christian woman presented as sort of a villain to the Pottermaniacs. In addition to calling the fans addicts (which we now know some are), she also claims these people will “ultimately destroy society,” which is probably about as true as Anelli’s pro-Potter overstatement about this necessarily being a great time in literary history. Obviously the lack of interviews from Rowling or Warner execs or any other more-authoritative figures makes We Are Wizards a bit weaker in content than some documentaries, and perhaps we’ll see more substantial films about the subject down the line (I’ve already heard about a similar film titled The Wizard Rockumentary), but as an introductory effort, this is quite enjoyable. And I guess by liking the film, I’m technically fan of the fans of the fans.

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