TORONTO – Many of the subjects of Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary, “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” talk about how at home they felt when they first attended the San Diego pop culture convention.
The director says he had a similar reaction when he attended his inaugural Comic-Con in 2009.
“It’s a place that encompasses so much of what I grew up loving as a kid and still love as an adult,” Spurlock said in a recent telephone interview from New York City. “I think that when I went there it was a place where I just felt all of me and all of my geeky tendencies and all of my geeky friends … very much fit in.”
The ode to geekdom is somewhat of a departure for the filmmaker, known for taking on social issues like obesity in 2004’s “Super Size Me” and the power of advertising in last year’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
He hit upon the idea to do a movie on Comic-Con when he was at the festival doing a “Simpsons” special for Fox.
“I was like: ‘This place is a movie,'” recalls Spurlock.
The idea was cemented further when he met legendary comic writer Stan Lee, who suggested they make a movie together. Soon, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon was on board, as well as Harry Knowles from “Ain’t it Cool News.”
“It was pretty much like this amazing geek dream team we put together,” says Spurlock.
“Comic-Con,” as the film explains, has changed drastically since its origins as a meeting place for comic book fans. It’s now a powerful bellwether of popular culture, used by movie-makers as a massive focus group.
“I think that it’s the story of people who are going in to experience something they’re passionate about, something that is basically changing the face of our culture today,” Spurlock says of Comic-Con. “It’s not like this film is an expose…. I think the greatest thing that’s proven by the film is that there’s a little geek in everybody…. My mom would be able to go to Comic-Con and find something she liked.”
When Spurlock put out a call for attendees who wanted to appear in his film, he received some 2,000 submissions. Of those, he followed 10, seven of whom are in the movie.
One is a married military officer who draws in his spare time and heads to San Diego to show his portfolio, despite the reservations of his wife. Then there is a costume designer determined to win the Comic-Con masquerade ball. And, a young couple with a mutual love of the festival.
“I know plenty of people who have girlfriend or boyfriends or husbands or wives who fell in love and basically bonded over their love of geeky things,” said Spurlock, noting he and his girlfriend share a love for “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica.”
And so don’t think for a moment that the filmmaker is out to make fun of his subjects.
“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” comes across as a love letter to the geeks of the world
“What the film does a really good job of doing is humanizing everybody that’s in it,” says Spurlock.
“It’s easy to stand back and (say): ‘Look how goofy they are in their costumes!’ and ‘Look, they collect weird things!’ The fact is most people collect weird things … I’ve got friends of my mom’s who collect presidential plates … but that’s just as silly as someone who collects action figures.
“There’s a parallel between passions,” he adds, questioning the difference between a sports fan with a painted face and the crowd at Comic-Con.
Passion, in some cases, that leads to profit. Some of Spurlock’s subjects are immensely talented and land career opportunities at Comic-Con.
Says the filmmaker: “There are things that are potentially life-changing for people, there are things that are life-affirming, there are things that will change their life forever.”
“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” opens Friday across Canada.