It’s all too easy these days to assume the warts-and-all investigative documentary is a dirty, provoking and common beast that belongs in a 9pm or 10pm slot on Channel 4 or Channel 5, primed and ready for dissection of its subjects by Daily Mail columnists and sadist social media trolls alike. In recent years, it’s not hard to see why that stereotype is in place. Just a quick glance at this week’s TV listings, for instance (correct at time of writing, Sunday 12th April 2015), unveils the likes of ‘Skint’ and ‘First Dates’ on Monday and Wednesday night on Channel 4, and ‘Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!’ on Wednesday night on Channel 5. Documentaries that are there to point and sneer at sections of society rather than highlight them in an accurate light.
Not so in the case of this, the directorial debut from one Tom Felton that got it’s first airing on BBC Three this fortnight gone. Known to, and adored by millions worldwide in his role as Draco Malfoy, nemesis of Harry Potter in the films based on J.K Rowling’s popular fantasy book series, he seems to be the person most well placed to carry out this investigation into the psyche of, and the life of the superfan. ‘From Beatlemania to Bieber Fever,’ he states in his opening gambit, ‘I want to find out what it is that makes the superfan the biggest above all others.’
His investigations first take him to meet up with the woman partly responsible for kick starting his acting career with his now iconic role as Draco, J.K Rowling, and his on screen nemesis/co-stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), to get their takes on the ‘superfan’ phenomena. Whilst Daniel says he finds such intense adoration hard to deal with, and that Rupert finds it so hard to not make time for fans he even wound up at the apartment of a drag queen fan at 2am, J.K Rowling has a different stance on it.
Namely, that as the writer of the work, she only really sees the feedback and appreciation of her written work as opposed to the adoration from others to the actors as people as it is for say, Tom, Daniel or Rupert. What was most interesting however, was that she herself, is not immune to a spot of fangirling – such as a tale she recounted to Tom of when she met one of her idols, rock singer Morrissey, whilst having lunch with her sister-in-law, and recollecting right back to the time she told her teenage self she would meet him and he would know who she was.
So you might be wondering what’s drawn Tom to making a documentary about the cult of the superfan? Well, it turns out he has his own superfan, 40 something Tina, who has followed him and met him at countless events over a seven year period. It was a chance encounter with her again last year, where she waited four hours outside a premiere he was attending to give him a card to send her condolences at the recent loss of his pet dog, that decided to make him reevaluate why she was as dedicated as she was.
So after finishing filming on his latest movie in Spain, his investigations then take him to America, where he meets up first with diehard Potterhead David, whose YouTube video dressed up as Harry in the basement of his house in Pittsburgh, covered in wall to wall Harry Potter paraphernalia, has amassed over 1.9 million hits. He then ventures on to Tulsa, to a fan convention or ‘Comi-Con’ as its more commonly known, where he meets both fans and stars of franchises such as Star Trek, Superman and Batman alike – and he’s briefly unable to comprehend coming face to face with fans dressed as their favourite characters, let alone stars like William Shatner who briefly turns him into something of a gibbering wreck.
David, a perfectly normal chap as Tom discovers, states he is more interested in the characters than he is the actors, and insists he would lose his cool more over J.K Rowling appearing at his front door then any of the other Potter actors, and that his interest stems from a sense of identification with the plight and story of Harry’s character in the books – the geeky, pale and bullied underdog turning into one of the most powerful, kick arse wizards ever. Similarly, another fan he meets up with after the Comi-Con, Jessica, is almost on the point of tears when she says the books and films were the best treatment for her coping with her depression.
As he heads on to New York, he then meets up (pictured above) with Brian Péchar, one of the most feted and respected superfans around, who has turned his passion for autograph and selfie hunting – but particularly for that of solo star Nick Jonas, his favourite singer – into his career, with two bestselling books to his name on the subject of his many famous encounters. After some time spent with Brian out on the streets of Manhattan on a rainy evening that just so happens to be the same night of a music awards ceremony Nick Jonas is at – this time in disguise as a grungy superfan himself – a near encounter with the law makes Tom wonder if being a superfan can sometimes border on being a detrimental thing. Brian however, states it’s the joy and thrill of the chase that makes being a superfan as much fun as it is and that he generally knows when to not push the boundaries.
Heading home to the UK, and having attended another Comi-Con event in Birmingham – this time, in disguise as ‘The Joker’ from the Batman films (pictured above), which he seems to enjoy more than the one he went to in Tulsa under no disguise – he finally decides to go and meet his own superfan Tina, to get her own take on what it means to be a superfan. ‘For me,’ she says to her idol, ‘it’s because … I’ve always seen you [the Harry Potter cast] as being like a family. And I feel like part of that family.’ When it’s put like that, it’s hard to see how being a superfan of any film, actor, book or popstar, whatever age you are, can be such a bad thing – only to those who don’t understand.
It particularly struck a chord with me watching this, because, even though I’m not a fan of Harry Potter or a comic book series, I’m a dedicated fan of different people and TV shows, like Olly Murs and Miranda Hart’s BBC sitcom, and I could see a little bit of myself in all the different types of fans that Tom met along the way here. Where his documentary is perhaps the most believable in recent times is that he, the subject of adoration, has turned it round to make the fans the subject, but not in a patronising or dismissive way. He shows everyone he meets here such understanding, eloquence and respect, and highlights the positive impact being a loyal and dedicated supporter can really have on someone’s life. It’s essential, heartwarming viewing for everyone, from Twihards to Directioners the world over.
‘Tom Felton Meets the Superfans’ is available for UK viewers to watch on BBC iPlayer until 26th April.