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click to enlarge survivingsuperconphoto2a_copy.jpg

Orlando expat Steven Shea's 'Surviving Supercon' may be the only geek convention we get this year 

FFF 2020 Opening Night Film

If you're still licking your wounds over the cancellation of the 2020 slate of fan conventions, watching Surviving Supercon will be bittersweet. On the one hand, this documentary about Fort Lauderdale's mammoth annual gathering of comics fans, cosplayers, anime kids and genre stans of all stripes is a painful reminder of a pastime whose future is suddenly in doubt. On the other hand, the movie is just about the only option we have right now to experience the thrills, chills and spills of a top con, if only vicariously.

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All the traditional sights and sounds are there. Look down, and you'll see staffers taping off painfully narrow queue lanes that lead to the promised land of a William Shatner autograph. Look up, and you'll witness the spectacle of Fantasy Super Cosplay Wrestling, the traveling revue that puts professional wrestlers in Skeletor and Star-Lord costumes and lets them loose on one another to create pure geek mayhem. And peek behind the curtain, and you'll get to meet the ersatz Comic Book Guy who runs the show – in this case, Supercon founder Mike Broder, who recounts the evolution of the event for the documentary cameras while his wife and business partner, Sandy Martin, rushes about the grounds, putting out fires.

It's comfort food for the already converted. But more casual viewers may find the film lacking in genuine, sustained drama. Its thrust is that running a major con entails four days of constant crisis, but as depicted here, those crises arise from out of the blue and are either solved swiftly or simply dropped as an issue, never to be revisited. The closest thing to a narrative arc concerns the event managers' running clashes with a hired security team that's about as effective as the Keystone Cops. Yet even that promising plotline essentially goes nowhere.

The biggest speed bump is a passing reference to Hurricane Matthew, the 2016 disaster that forced the postponement of Orlando's Spooky Empire convention: Supercon's Broder expresses his relief that he's never had to face such a dilemma, which he says nearly cratered the business of Spooky's Petey Mongelli (who appears in the film as a mentor figure to Broder). Wondering what the coronavirus means for all of them right now means you'll probably miss whatever Broder says next.

click to enlarge Sandy Martin in 'Surviving Supercon'
  • Sandy Martin in 'Surviving Supercon'

Still, the doc retains a joyous, kinetic feel, thanks to the obvious enthusiasm of the colorfully dressed attendees and the manic commitment of Martin, Broder's partner in both life and impresario-hood. A perpetually frantic beanpole who resembles a redheaded Olive Oyl on amphetamines, she's all over the screen, hunting for the perfect extension cord and whipping clueless security guards into shape like a whirling dervish of OCD and profanity. Expect "the Sandy Martin" to be a top cosplaying choice as soon as the nation's convention calendar resumes. Whenever the @$&# that might be.

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