One could say that for Vancouver-based filmmaker Brent Hodge, friendship is magic.
It was his friendship with voice-over artist Ashleigh Ball that led to the creation of the hotly anticipated documentary A Brony Tale, which profiles the fandom surrounding the children’s TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
“I started off thinking this was pretty weird,” Hodge admits, reached on the phone in New York. “But the more I cut into it, it’s not even about the show. It’s more about the community.”
This community, known as bronies, is a group of people as dedicated to My Little Pony as any Trekkie, Whovian, or Twihard to their respective pop culture niches.
But what makes them unusual is that the majority of bronies are grown, adult men, typically 20 to 30 years old, who are watching a cartoon intended for girls between age two and 11.
Hodge said the idea for the documentary came after Ball received an invitation to BronyCon, a My Little Pony fan convention.
Ball—who is "a filmmaker’s dream,” according to Hodge—voices the characters Rainbow Dash and Applejack on the show, and was increasingly encountering bronies in her duties fronting local pop act Hey Ocean!
Hodge, seeing the unique opportunity in front of him, decided to document the experience.
“In this film, you’re really going through the eyes of Ashleigh to this thing, which is probably what most of the audience is going through, a very similar feeling,” says Hodge.
In the film, we are introduced to several bronies, included a mustachioed motorcycle mechanic, a DJ who mashes up songs from the show into dance music, the curator of a brony fan site, and an U.S. veteran whose love for the show helped him start drawing again after a turn in Iraq that left him shell-shocked. Despite disparate backgrounds, every single brony interviewed for the film has an unrelenting optimism and enthusiasm, which was a bit disquieting even for Hodge at first.
“I kept thinking, ‘What’s the catch? Why are these guys so nice?’”, Hodge laughs. “I would show up in a city…and a brony would meet me at the airport and pick me up and take me to a restaurant. And this is all before we ever interviewed, he’s never met me.…Most of the time you can barely get 10 minutes of someone’s time, let alone someone picking you up at the airport and wanting to be friends. I almost felt like I was invited into this club of awesome.”
So why is a kid’s cartoon resonating with adult men so much?
“The slogan of the show is ‘friendship is magic’ and that’s all they’re really wanting,” Hodge says of the fandom. “They want to meet friends, like-minded people. It’s a different level of confidence to come out and say you like a kids’ show. It’s more of a feeling than it ever was about the show.”
In a sense, bronies can be seen as a new model for masculinity as well.
“We’re talking about a much bigger thing here than just a bunch of kooky kids,” Hodge says. “We’re talking about what it takes to be a man and elements of that.…I started to challenge the definition of what a man is, what it takes to be a man.…These guys are probably more in tune with it than anyone.”
A Brony Tale, which makes its Canadian debut in Vancouver on Sunday (May 11) is rapidly gaining fans of its own. It had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April to a sold-out crowd after IndieWire named it one of the fest’s top 10 must-see films. It’s rumoured Robert De Niro is a fan. And it’s also recently been picked up for distribution by Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock—“I thought it was my friends playing a prank on me when I first got an email,” says Hodge.
However, the film’s screening at DOXA is possibly the screening Hodge is anticipating the most.
“Six or seven weeks ago, no one was giving this any love, it wasn’t in Tribeca yet,” says Hodge. “Getting it out there was the hard part, and the only people that gave me love were DOXA….it’s a huge thing that they did, I can’t wait for DOXA, it’s a huge show.”
So over the course of making A Brony Tale, has Hodge become a brony himself? He's watched most of the episodes—“I had to, research-wise."
But he’s not collecting figurines or buying merchandise?
“I do have a couple of shirts, I have to admit. For marketing purposes only.”
A Brony Tale screens on May 11 at the Vancity Theatre (7 p.m.) and the Vancouver Playhouse (8 p.m.) as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.