J.K. Rowling has already written Harry Potter's final chapter, but if We Are Wizards, Josh Koury’s look at the fan culture inspired by the Harry Potter series, is any indication, Potter-mania is still alive and well for many. History has shown that the need for escapist entertainment is greatest when times are hard. As the forecast for America’s economic future looks increasingly grim, We Are Wizards is a potent reminder of our need for the appealing, alternative reality of fiction and an engaging examination of the restless creativity of a Super Fan inspired.
Koury’s point of entry into the world of HP fandom is largely through the Wizard Rock scene that has sprung up in recent years. While it might initially seem that the worlds of Harry Potter and punk rock have little in common, Koury illustrates how the same DIY ethic and sense of community that drove the punk movement also fuel Wizard Rock. Bands and fans support one another, turning out in droves for each other’s shows, even holding conventions for groups whose lyrics deal with things like dragons and the tribulations of being an adolescent wizard. In interviews, Harry and the Potters, originators of Wizard Rock and the movement’s primary exponents, come off as just the right combination of endearingly self-aware and unapologetically nerdy. They may not sound all that great in concert, but that’s not the point.
From there, Koury moves on to profile others who made the leap from inspired fan to creator. There’s Melissa Anelli, who parlayed the success of her Harry Potter fan site, The Leaky Cauldron, into a successful writing career; Brad Neely, an illustrator who launched his career producing alternate soundtracks to the Harry Potter films; and Heather Lawver, who, threatened with a lawsuit by Warner Brothers that demanded she shut down her website, The Daily Prophet, organized an international boycott of Harry Potter merchandise and became a spokesperson for fan’s rights. It’s genuinely moving to hear these people talk about the ways in which Harry Potter came into their lives, often at difficult points, and helped to turn them around. Boldly, Koury also includes interviews with Christian filmmaker and Potter critic Caryl Matrisciana, who has made films denouncing what she sees as the insidious, occult message implicit in the books. Though not a fan, she belongs in this documentary with those like Anelli and Lawver because Harry Potter was also the catalyst that inspired her to speak up.
Because Koury casts such a wide net, some subjects inevitably prove more interesting than others. The movie could have done without a few of the lesser (and less interesting) Wizard Rock bands to form in the wake of the success of Harry and the Potters. Neely, the comic book artist, is almost too good of a subject. Offbeat and always entertaining (his characterization of Hermione as a “prepubescent Medusa” is priceless), one gets the sense that turning a camera on this guy for a day would yield enough footage for an entire film. It’s fun to watch, but the disproportionate amount of footage of him nearly hijacks the documentary, coming dangerously close to turning into the Brad Neely Show.
Ultimately, We Are Wizards succeeds because of the infectious enthusiasm of its subjects and the filmmaker’s commitment to letting them tell their stories, sincerely and unhindered by irony. Made with the same DIY ethic its subjects champion, the movie — art inspired by art inspired by art — is part and parcel of the weird and wonderful universe it documents, where that most peculiar of muses, a fictional, teenage sorcerer, takes his place at the center.