SXSW Review: We Are Wizards

Like most great movies this one defies easy explanation. At first blush We Are Wizards is about the phenomenon known as "Wizard Rock." But what it's really about is a much bigger deal -- the limitless imagination of kids, the notion of what it is to be a fan, intellectual property rights and about 50 other important topics. It's all handled with such a beautiful balance, intermingling comedy and poignancy, that I surely hope it gets some steam coming out of The South by Southwest Film Festival.

Full disclosure: I'm not a Potterite. I gave the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie a B-. I once wrote, on a lark, that they should reform Hogwarts. I've never read the books. Nevertheless, it's hard to miss the phenomenon of Harry Potter, isn't it? This is a film that most people will be able to get into due to how ingrained Harry Potter is in our culture.

Wizard Rock, for those not in the know (like me), is a Harry Potter offshoot. It's the music that the fans make about the books and movies. The bands have names like "Harry and the Potters" and "Draco and The Malfoys." They sing about Harry, Hogwarts, and related wizardry. For instance, one of Draco's songs is "My Dad is Rich and Your Dad is Dead." Besides having a classic title, the song has an extremely catchy melody. But the subject of Wizard Rock is just where We Are Wizards starts. (Actually it sort of starts with a crazy person saying Harry Potter is teaching our kids the Occult. Sigh. Imagination is bad kids! Don't have one of those!)

Where the movie ends up is even better -- with Warner Bros. coming down on fans like a ton of bricks for fan fiction, fan get-togethers, fan websites and the like. This crackdown started PotterWar -- another cultural phenomenon that I clearly missed. The fans started a massive boycott of Potter-related merchandise and Warner Brothers eventually figured out that serving lawsuits to fourteen-year-old girls who lived to talk Harry Potter wasn't the best route to go. Unfortunately no one from Warner Brothers appears in this documentary, though it makes sense thematically, as the documentary seems to be about "us" as opposed to the official world's "them."

I suppose I should make one complaint (that's why they pay me the big bucks). I felt like the film was a bit too meandering at the end as it tried to tie everything together. It wasn't a terrible feeling, just more of like "well, should we wrap this up guys?" that overcame me. But I would still recommend this one to anyone I know. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

There's a quick 30 seconds about a guy who helms a band called "Grop." Grop is a hardcore band that clearly sort of frightens the kids with screaming and loud noises. But the lead singer is just a normal guy -- a nice guy even -- who just wants to be able to practice his art without being hated. That gets to the core of what made We Are Wizards special. Not all art is amazing, and some of the offshoots of Potterdom are downright strange. But the feeling of community combined with the encouragement of imagination ... well, those seem like qualities we can all support.

Grade: A