Wizards Hit SXSW

March 16th, 2008
A review by Lizz Clements

On Friday, March 14th, I was one of many lucky people to witness a screening of the documentary film We Are Wizards at the music, film, and media festival South By Southwest (SXSW). The fact that I was even living in the same city in which the film premiered felt like a miracle to me. The experience of watching people I knew on the big screen was surreal, especially when I learned things about them I hadn’t known before.

We Are Wizards features a cast of “wizards” as well as people of the non-wizard or anti-wizard variety. It is not exclusively about wizard rock or the wizard rock community but rather multiple aspects of the Harry Potter fandom and how it has become something that is amazing and uncommon.

The “characters,” as director Josh Koury calls them, are Brad Neely, The Hungarian Horntails, DJ Luna Lovegood, The Cedric Diggorys, Order of Merlin, Melissa Anelli, Draco and the Malfoys, Heather Lawver, The Whomping Willows, and Harry and the Potters. Author and professor Dr. Henry Jenkins and filmmaker Caryl Matrisciana make appearances as well.

The brothers DeGeorge, of Harry and the Potters, are as crazy and lovable as expected throughout. Particularly thrilling to me was getting to see The Shed inside which Harry and the Potters came to fruition. Joe explains that the idea planted itself in his head during an Ed in the Refrigerators show when a female audience member yelled at him “I love you Harry Potter!” Being a rock star while going to school comes up in the film as well. We’re told that Joe ran for class president. One of his campaign slogans was “Vote for Joe. He’s a wizard.” He lost by “a few votes.” We also learn that their father is a scientist. Science magazines could be found around the DeGeorge house, a source of creativity and innovation.

The punk rock family Tina Olson and Ian Wilkins with children Darius, Holden, Oliver, and Violet steal much of the show. Ian explains why he chose the namesake of his band, The Cedric Diggorys, implying that he’s the kind of guy bad stuff happens to for no apparent reason. Tina describes how she and Ian purchased used guitars to have lying around the house for the kids. When asked about the Horntails, Paul DeGeorge states, “Think about what you did when you were seven.”

The film focuses a bit less on bands Order of Merlin, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Whomping Willows, but the areas that it does touch upon are those in regard to what wizard rock has done to change their lives. The Malfoys’ Bradley Mehlenbacher talks about his difficulties writing lyrics and how getting into wizard rock helped him move past it. Similarly, he also talks about friend Matt of the Whomping Willows’ return to writing humorous lyrics thanks to wizard rock. “It freed a lot of people up” he says.

I left feeling as if the majority of the film concentrated on characters Heather Lawver and Brad Neely. Lawver helped to launch PotterWar, an organization that fought a letter campaign begun by Warner Bros. accusing HP fansite owners of copyright infringement. According to Lawver’s website, “Within six months we had accomplished what no one else could – we established legal precedent that has brought copyright, trademark, and intellectual property law into the new millennium. Using common sense and tenacity, PotterWar merged the spirit of the law with the spirit of innovation on the Internet, ushering in an age of fearless creativity.”

“I just knew that letter was full of baloney,” says Heather about when her friend received one. Lawver and her group set up a boycott of Potter merchandise and a corresponding petition of over 15,000 signatures. Their efforts were only finally dignified when written about by USA Today.

Neely’s experiences are similar. He is responsible for Wizard People, Dear Readers, “an unauthorized re-telling” of the Sorcerer’s Stone. When WPDR started gaining popularity, Neely was approached by film festivals and other venues wanting to show the “film.” He worried that such a thing would be illegal and as expected Warner Bros. tried to put a stop to it. He describes one theater being told they would never be able to play another Warner Bros. movie again. WB representatives showed up at a screening. Although no one approached him, Neely said he was scared to even say “Harry Potter” afterward.

Neely describes his career as being an audience member, responding. He talks about his attempts at acting and is appreciative of what WPDR has done for his career citing success in other things as a direct result of the “film.” “I’ll probably never be able to make something else I love so much,” he says. Some of the funniest parts of the film involve Neely drawing or reading his work. An excerpt of Wizard People is included.

Martisciana’s part in the film is unexpected but also integral. During the Q&A session that followed the screening, Koury explained that it was important for them to talk to an individual who found the Harry Potter series to be more about the occult than about what it’s fans ascribe to it. Her argument has more to do with the symbolism of the magic and occult themes as opposed to the actual story. “It’s a fight for our minds,” she says. Ian mentions his aunt and her wariness over his children reading the books. Joe, as well, talks about a fan telling him that she had to read the books in secret because her parents disapproved of them.

The overall theme of the film, however, is pro-Potter, especially in terms of the fandom’s presence and achievements. Dr. Henry Jenkins and Melissa Anelli provide us with glimpses at what the community has achieved in terms of becoming a cohesive unit as well as setting precedents in battles over intellectual property.

The segments are tied together nicely with cleverly orchestrated stock footage as well as artistic shots like white shirts drying on the porch at the DeGeorge house and Papa Horntail holding baby violet while tuning a guitar. We’re also shown some of Horntails member Darius’s home movies.

As documentaries go, this was one of the funnest I’ve seen. It’s engaging and celebratory but also shows the viewer what Harry Potter has done to change people’s lives for the better or give them a sense of purpose or belonging. What I’ve shared with you is a just a fraction of the fantastic content found in the film. When asked what she thought of the film, wizard rock fan Rebecca Krznarich called it “an epic tour-de-force.” However cliched it might sound, I genuinely feel that it’s true.

Unfortunately, DVD copies and iTunes downloads of the film won’t be available for several months. You can add the film to your friends on MySpace to stay up to date on further festival dates as well as DVD information. The film’s most recent trailer is found below.

We Are Wizards Website