Fanarchy! (2015)

(On Cable TV, March 2017) As geek culture becomes mainstream culture, it’s inevitable that hitherto ultra-specialized areas of geek obsession would be explored and presented in documentaries accessible to general audiences. So it is that Fanarchy! delves into the trend of fans making movies to parody/replicate/extend their favourite media properties. Fan-fiction isn’t anything new, of course (by nature of its topic, Fanarchy! barely mentions how written fanfic, slash or otherwise, has a history now dating back nearly fifty years) but being able to show clips of the results can make for an entertaining film, breaking up the talking heads with examples of the form, with animated interludes as bridges between sections. Interviewees include Star Trek actress Denise Crosby (given her role in producing predecessor documentary Trekkies), has-been internet talkback pioneer Harry Knowles, pro critic Leonard Maltin, and fan filmmakers such as Maya Glick, Vic Mignogna and Chris Strompolos. Fanarchy! is interesting, but by remaining so enthusiastic about its subject, it can’t help but remain prisoner of its own fannish bubble and lack a critical perspective about it. While the film cogently explains how and why fans can’t help but play with their favourite characters and stories, bemoaning the lock-down of such stories by large companies, that viewpoint seems limited at best. I’m predictably old-school when I opine that the real creative revolution remains creating original characters and stories rather than using someone else’s labels. Ah well. People who are allergic to fandom (something that describes me about half the time) will also have a hard time with the Comicon-friendly fannish triumphalism that permeates the film. But Halifax-based writer/director Donna Davies clearly knows to whom she’s selling this film, and they’re probably not interested in questioning its premise. Once you’re willing to play along, Fanarchy! is interesting enough—perhaps repetitive in its second half, but handled with some energy from beginning to end. Even at a time when most of the movies mentioned are available on YouTube, there’s a non-negligible pleasure in hearing someone guide us through the vast landscape of fan-films and show us (without buffering!) some of the most interesting examples of the genre. Fanarchy!, interestingly enough, is a co-production between some of Canada’s biggest movie cable channels—while the film is widely available in Canada, it may be harder to track down anywhere else. (As a Canadian, one of the nice things about government contributions to the arts is seeing tax dollars and subsidies being directed to sympathetic purposes.) One warning, though: The closed captioning on the film is terrible, with homophones often substituting for the real words.

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