The documentary “We Are Wizards” opens with activist Carol Matriciana speaking candidly about the effect of the “Harry Potter” series on the malleable brains of children today. The outspoken woman believes “Potter” is a gateway drug to the occult, polluting the minds of the masses that have unknowingly opened themselves up to demonic suggestion, with younger devotees practically handing their future over to Satan with every passing chapter. If you take the remainder of this documentary to heart, it turns out “Harry Potter” might not be quite the harbinger of doom Matriciana would like to believe.
“Wizards” drops the viewer into the world of “Potter” fandom, where all things Hogwarts are treasured dearly by this subculture, who not only appreciate the brand, but hope to live forever in the J.K. Rowling world through their musical and costumed efforts. Hardly a “Trekkies” mocking experience of uncomfortable geek disregard, “Wizards,” directed by Josh Koury, instead emphasizes high spirits and academic triumphs while showing off sporadic dorky happenings.
The kids call it “Wizard Rock,” and it has been all the rage over the last seven years. Covering the rise of such acts as Whomping Willows and Draco and the Malfoys, “Wizards” examines the upbeat attitudes and fan fumes huffed by the bands as they play to capacity crowds at the local library and various book stores. Brothers Joe and Paul DeGeorge of Harry and the Potters are the focal point here, showcasing a delightful stage presence of fanboy glee as they bounce around performing songs based on the “Potter” series. Offstage, the guys are kindly, nerdly young men who delight in their success, exemplifying the type of person who would undertake such a marginal musical adventure. And to help challenge virginal stereotypes often associated with geeky fandom, most of the band members interviewed have kids. So there.
While music is a huge component of the “Wizards” experience, there’s a comical side to be judged under the sorting hat as well. Recording his own jokey audio book to be synced up to the first “Harry Potter” motion picture, Brad Neely enjoyed a minor push of fame from his efforts. While in possession of an idiosyncratic path to “Potter” passion, Neely is a spectacularly unpleasant interviewee with questionable taste in shtick-coma comedy and coarse verbal expression, making his scenes agonizing in an otherwise sprightly documentary. Actually, Koury hands over much of “Wizards” to Neely and his self-conscious, stammering, profanity-laden ways (“Wizards” is not for kids), for reasons that grow more difficult to understand as the documentary plays on. Perhaps it’s a personal taste issue, but Neely’s contribution to Potterland and “Wizards” consists primarily of suspect artistic achievement that pales in comparison to the rest of the film’s participants.
Finally, “Wizards” inspects the natural enemy to the average “Harry Potter” fan: copyright law. Following Neely and brusque superfan Heather Lawver’s tussles with the Warner Brothers legal team, “Wizards” plays a little dirty pool with timeline clarity (Lawver’s “Potter War” was declared in pre-movie 2001, making WB’s intellectual property anxiety a little more understandable, although ultimately misguided), but the message of harmless adoration versus the grinding teeth of big business is made clear. It seems silly for any studio to panic over oceans of free publicity. Then again, the disconnect between Hollywood and the public is a mystifying tango that will never be understood.
What “Wizards” excels at is portraying the fans in a positive light, observing the masses using “Harry Potter” to better themselves through the pursuit of intellect and kindness, directly opposing Matriciana’s viewpoint that only pure evil is lurking in the pages. Koury does a masterful job emphasizing literacy and purity of spirit in “Wizards,” assembling an often delightful documentary that celebrates the tight cultural grip of “Potter” and its fringe pastimes. How anyone could find malevolence is this subculture is beyond me.