Documentary Review: Behind the fan con scenes, “Surviving SuperCon”

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The costumes, the celebrity appearances, the sea of vendors, the crowd that lets you know you’re in your tribe, and those lines — those endless lines.

Fan conventions, nothing like’em, right? They’re famous for the army of fans — and we’re not just talking about the 501st Legion — but what about the army it takes to put on a show for them?

“Surviving SuperCon” is a behind the scenes gander at the “mom and pop” operation that puts on the fast-growing, franchising Miami gathering of fans of sci-fi, comic book, anime and animation, wrestling, basically “anything you can think of in the geek genre,” as its co-founder, Michael Broder describes it.

It’s not as big as the New York Comic Con, or the San Diego one that dominates the sci-fi, fantasy, comic-book and horror film and TV calendar. But as it spreads out across the Southeast (Raleigh, Louisville) and beyond, here’s a look at how it all comes together, and the sort of things that can go wrong.

It’s not fan-focused, so while there’s footage of fans dressed as their favorite imaginary character (cosplay), enthusiasts gathered for panel discussions, “How to be a Voice Actor” workshops and star appearances from the likes of William Shatner and John Wesley Shipp (“The Flash”), what filmmaker Steven Shea was interested in was the folks pulling the strings, arranging the celebrity appearances and making this massive undertaking not a complete pain to the 50,000 or so who annually visit the South Florida event (in the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center in 2018).

The film focuses on the couple who founded and run the Miami event, Sandy Martin and Michael Broder. We hear them explain the undertaking and their attachment to it.

He was an indie film producer who needed to find a new money-making outlet. She was the organizer who made the trains run on time.

From angry phone calls to sighs of disappointment when this or that “special guest” is hired for an acting job and can’t come, or “sprained his wrist” (No autographs, kids!) to the comically inept “official” security company used by the center, “Surviving” tries to take it all in.

“Check badges, keep people safe, keep the line moving,” Sandy counsels the inexperienced security team at the gates. Just getting that simple task managed, training “people hired, at the last minute, through Goodwill” to “wand” guests, to know the difference between a weapon and a costume or “prop,” eats up a lot of “SuperCon.”

“Wooden bats are allowed. Most often, they’re with 15 year-old girls dressed as Harley Quinn.”

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The backstage emphasis robs the film of much of its flavor. Still, the whole addition of wrestling to the festivities — Fantasy Super Cosplay Wrestling — is a fascinating avenue to explore.

The “big names” who attend such events don’t stand still for interviews (or didn’t sign wavers) aren’t really the focus. And there’s only so much that’s interesting about a lot of people fretting over video cables that aren’t long enough, thieves stealing passes or the new T-shirt vendors.

And a third act intrusion of real world events — the Parkland shooting — seems necessary, but off-topic and a tad self-serving. Yes, the company gives to charity.

The entire film, for all the flashes of temper, still feels “officially sanctioned” to a higher degree than you’d like. That’s the price you pay by leaning so heavily on two main interview subjects.

But if nothing else, “Surviving Supercon” makes a fine primer on the million things that have to be solved to make such an event come off, the scores of things that can go wrong and the commitment it takes to pull it off and make those lines move along.

Just don’t call it their “passion.”

“It’s not a passion,” Sandy Martin declares. “I’m obsessed. Obsession is what moves mountains!”

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MPAA Rating: Unrated, lots and lots of profanity

Cast: Michael Broder, Sandy Martin, Terry Cronin

Credits: Written and directed by Steven Shea. An Abyssmal Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:34

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