What: A Brony Tale
Where: The Vic
When: Tuesday night, 9 p.m.
Rating: four stars
It’s easy to understand why Ashleigh Ball would say “the pervert alarm went off for sure” when she first heard about the Brony craze.
After all, it does seem weird that there are thousands of grown men out there who can’t get enough of an animated TV series aimed at little girls — Hasbro’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
As Victoria native Brent Hodge vividly illustrates in A Brony Tale, his entertaining, insightful and affectionate documentary about a seemingly bizarre subculture, there’s more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.
Heck, it might even make a Brony out of you.
“I’m truly blessed that this came to me,” said Hodge, whose fandom film being screened across North America tonight has taken off since Morgan Spurlock came on board as executive producer and distributor.
Hodge, 28, credits his friend Ball, the Vancouver-based musician and voiceover artist who provides the voices of Apple Jack and Rainbow Dash, with inspiring him. The Mount Doug grad began developing his feature-length documentary when Ball told him about a flood of emails she began receiving from adult male fans, a.k.a. the Bronies.
“Ashleigh’s a filmmaker’s dream,” says Hodge. “She’s full of energy and wears her heart on her sleeve. There’s not an introverted bone in her body. There’s no faking this.”
He was referring to the magnetism the dynamic and appealing young Canadian College of Performing Arts graduate exudes on screen. She’s the centrifugal force around whom stories of some of this growing movement’s fascinating and endearing characters are interwoven.
Take DustyKatt, the brawny San Jose motorcyle mechanic described as “the manliest Brony in the world,” for instance.
“I like what I like,” the biker says matter-of-factly, expressing his unusual appreciation for the cartoons that promote kindness and friendship through the adventures of pastel-coloured ponies.
“We’re supposed to chug beer, ride motorcycles, be degrading to women and like explosions. That’s what’s ingrained in our brains since the minute you’re born and put into a blue crib.”
Bronies, which Hodge compares to Trekkies, are everywhere, as he discovered on a cross-continent journey that climaxes at New York’s BronyCon, where Ball embraces her fervent fans.
Other noteworthy Bronies include Bryan Mischke, a sensitive young Iraq veteran and pony artist whose Broniness helps him overcome PTSD; Jaxblade, a handsome muscular guy who encourages others to build self-esteem through workouts and My Little Pony viewings; pony DJ SilvaHound; musician MandoPony; Rommel, founder of the charitable organization Bronies for Good; and Pat Edwards and Marsha Redden, two psychologists whose studies with 30,000 Bronies reveal 84 per cent are heterosexual, with ages ranging from 14 to 57.
While it seems a stretch, the film suggests the Brony subculture has grown, partly in response to such contemporary fears as post-9/11 terrorism anxiety and economic despair.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing fandoms,” says Hodge, who notes BronyCon attracted 20,000 fans last year, compared to 700 he encountered while there in 2012.
While his self-funded documentary acknowledges Brony’s cultural significance, the Mount Doug grad said he didn’t shoot with a specific agenda.
“It kind of filmed itself in a weird way,” he said. “I was only doing it to explore, and I said ‘I’m just going to show whatever I see.’ ”
Hodge never expected it would be such a “goldmine” until he began contacting Bronies online. He encountered others while on location working on other projects for Hodgee Films, his Vancouver-based company that specializes in production of live music, travel and pop culture-based projects.
“Some of them just came to me,” he said, recalling a Brony family he met while in Halifax for a friend’s wedding. They invited him to accompany them to a mall.
Hodge was particularly struck by his encounters with Bryan, the soldier whose comment “don’t underestimate things that make you happy” stayed with him.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever find a guy like that, but he had a real story he needed to say, and I just got to hit ‘record,’ he said. “I’m going, ‘OK, they’re into ponies.’ But he made it real.”
As A Brony Tale builds momentum, fuelled by its success at Tribeca Film Festival and DOXA, Hodge can barely contain his gratitude to Spurlock.
“What I’ve always liked about Morgan’s work is he doesn’t make you leave feeling horrible about yourself,” Hodge said. “Bronies might be a weird subculture, but this celebrates it. It doesn’t make you feel like we’re in the pits. He’s been a huge influence.”
Hodge and Ball will participate in a post-screening Q&A Tuesday night via Skype.