I admit upfront I had no hope for this film. I figured Spurlock would trot out his usual shtick, focusing more on himself than his subject, and engaging in a fatuous kind of culture tourism, diving deep into the belly of geekdom.

Instead, A FAN’S HOPE is by far Spurlock’s most matured and compelling work yet. Wisely keeping himself almost entirely out of the proceedings, he tells the tale of the annual madness in San Diego with both grace and dexterity. Employing what must have been a small army of cinematographers, he follows a disparate group of individuals who all get something out of the even. There’s the comic book artists, both of whom from very different backgrounds looking to break into the game. There’s the salty comic store owner, a veteran of the even who sees it as slipping more and more away from its original mandate. A woman is shown crafting an elaborate costume and skit to act out a cutscene from a game, in hopes of a future in creating animatronic costumes for a living in Hollywood. There’s the charming young couple who attend event after event, while the young man is secretly trying to pick up a ring from a vendor and present it as a promise of engagement during a Kevin Smith panel.

Interspersed with these narratives are a number of fist person interviews with  a slew of people, from Harry Knowles (one of the producers of the film), to Seth Rogen, Joss Whedon, Matt Groening, Guillermo del Toro, Stan Lee, and so on. Jaded comments from Frank Miller are always a treat, and each in their own way gives out a charming tale of their own sense of communitarian nerdiness.

Rather than some first person account that shaped all his other works, we’re given a lovely overview of the entire event through the travails and travels of this varied group. By the end, there’s such fun, infectious joy and a sense of content exhaustion from the happenings that it’s as if we all traveled with them to the event. A well crafted, accomplished film, this was one of my most surprising screenings at TIFF, surpassing completely my (admittedly lowered) expectations.