Thursday, November 8, 2007

"IRL (In Real Life)" comes to DVD!

"IRL (In Real Life)" comes to DVD! One of the first feature documentaries to tackle online communities and the first film about online fans made by fans, the full documentary is now available on DVD for the first time.

"IRL (In Real Life)" is one of the first feature-length documentaries to take on the subject of online communities. IRL is also the first documentary made by fans about fan communities. The film chronicles the life, death and afterlife of an online community called "The Bronze," made up of fans of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." The documentary looks at what happens when online friendships move from the Internet into "real life." In their own words, "Bronzers" talk about what lead them to seek out the community, the prejudices and misconceptions they had to face from family and friends about their Internet activities, and the effect the experience had on their lives.

Available through with a suggested retail price of $29.99 (US), the DVD contains the entire feature film as well as a bonus gag reel exclusive to the DVD release, in addition to the promotional trailers and more bonus features. The disc is NTSC, region-free, and can be shipped anywhere in the world.

Stephanie Tuszynski directed and produced the film. In 2003, she began a project about the community, even as the television series which had drawn everyone together was about to come to an end. Traveling across the US and Canada from 2003-2004, she recorded interviews and filmed gatherings. While editing the film, she completed her PhD in American Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and is currently the Visiting Assistant Professor of Film at the University of Toledo.

The documentary provides an inside look an early time in the growth not just of online fan groups but online communities as a whole, providing a unique perspective on the way our interactions with other people on the Internet have evolved over the last decade.

The film's run-time is 55 minutes, and it features an original score, composed by Jymm Thomas, a member of Darling Violetta, the band that performed the theme for the "Buffy" spin-off "Angel."

"IRL (In Real Life)" DVD Special Features and Disc Contents

The feature documentary has been released on single-layer discs (4:3 aspect ratio) and is presented with Dolby stereo sound. In addition the following special features appear on the disc:

Bonus Features:
Gag Reel
Postcard Montage


In August of 1997, having stumbled across a summer rerun of a tv show with one of the stupidest names ever, I was surfing the Internet for information about the series and for reasons I still can't explain, decided to check out the "interactive" portion of the website. I'd never looked in a discussion forum before, being new to the World Wide Web and believing, as a lot of people did and still do, that those kinds of forums were haunts for hackers and pedophiles. What I encountered that day meant I would never look at online forums the same way again.

The official website for Buffy the Vampire Slayer housed a linear message board called "The Bronze," named after the all-ages club on the show. A close-knit community developed around the linear board; members referred to themselves as "Bronzers." For 5 years, from 1997 until the community was closed in July of 2001, I posted as "DarkLady" in The Bronze. Over and over through the years, when I would "out" myself to someone, a family member or a friend or coworker, I would either get a confused look and a question about axe murderers, or worse, "So, what, you just sit around and talk about Buffy all day?"

Bronzers did indeed discuss Buffy at great length and in obsessive detail. But the fannish discussion existed side by side with large amounts of off-topic conversation, such as talk about other television shows, movies, books, pets, children, politics, religion, etc. Things got heated frequently, and sometimes it was even boring. But through all this talking, the people in the Bronze formed a deep bond with both the community as a whole and with each other. Bronzers traveled to spend time with each other "in real life." Beyond the annual Posting Board Party, held every February in Los Angeles, there were dozens of other annual and spontaneous gatherings all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. These gatherings were not about celebrating the television show. They were about celebrating the community.

Bronzers created a community of fans, one with a strong sense of identity which had only a secondary relationship to the television show which had drawn the people together in the first place. Bronzers identified themselves as Bronzers first, and Buffy fans second.

The Bronze died in 2001, but it took the show going off the air, in 2003, for me to start working on a movie about the Bronzer community. I wanted to make some sort of record that this community existed, even though by that time it had started to fade away. I interviewed 25 Bronzers in places from New York City to Los Angeles, Toronto to Houston, and edited the interviews and some other footage together to tell the story those people wanted to tell, about the "life, death and afterlife of an online community."

This isn't a documentary about Fandom, nor is it about all online communities. It's about this one particular group of fans from this one particular place. But at the same time? It really is about Fandom in a way. Anyone who's been involved in a fandom or almost any online group can watch this and be able to identify with the stories being told, because the film isn't about "Buffy" at all. It's really just sharing the story of getting involved in an online community, about stumbling into a group of folks on the Internet and suddenly feeling like you found your people, your home. The one place you felt you absolutely belonged, and that maybe changed your life.

The film isn't all sunshine and puppies. It brings up the unpleasant stuff, the trolls, the controversies. It also talks about "coming out" to family and friends and about the stigma of socializing online. It wouldn't have been honest if it didn't cover those things. But the bottom line, this is a documentary about a fan group that lets the fans themselves tell their story in their own words. And hopefully, it presents a realistic picture of what goes on between people online that will help us all put aside the "axe murderers and child molesters" stereotyping and think about the living human beings behind the avatars and user names, and what it is they are getting out of online social activity that makes it so important to them.

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