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Save-our-show television fans star in new CineSarnia doc

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Cathy Dobson

Michael Sparaga talks quickly and with such passion about his latest documentary, his enthusiasm pulses through the phone line.

United We Fan is the next offering from CineSarnia and is due to play at the Sarnia Library Nov. 4 and 5.

Sparaga’s third documentary examines how television fans have championed their favourite shows and saved them from cancellation.

From the couple behind the letter-writing campaign that brought Star Trek back for a third season, to the legions who petitioned the big networks to keep shows like Chuck, Longmire and Jericho, the film is more about the human spirit than the campaigns, Sparaga says.

“I am a huge TV fan. I grew up on it. I love it,” he said from his home in Toronto.

Michael Sparaga

United We Fan was inspired by his experience as a 13-year-old when a serialized show called Crime Story was almost cancelled in the 1980s.

“My mom suggested I write a letter to NBC and I did and the show came back. Mine was just one letter but I remember thinking that was democracy at work.” It stuck with him.

“This is about people stepping way outside their comfort zone because they love a character or a storyline,” he said.

“It’s about people working together on something that is important to them. I find that super inspiring.”

According to Sparaga, the real star of his film is a woman named Dorothy Swanson, a Michigan teacher and housewife who “fought like crazy” to save Cagney & Lacey after its first year.

When she won that one, she formed a grassroots organization called Viewers for Quality Television that lobbied to save shows all over the U.S. and Canada.

For 15 years, Swanson advocated for better television. She started an awards ceremony for her favourites and made fandom into a career.

“She had so much power and even wrote a book,” Sparaga said. “It changed her entire life.”

Critics say Sparaga’s natural optimism and good humour permeate his film. He has produced a “cheery collage” of anecdotes that celebrate community, says NOW Toronto.

United We Fan premiered in April at Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary festival. That was followed by a screening at the American Film Institute’s documentary festival in Washington D.C.

A volunteer with CineSarnia saw it at Hot Docs, according to Sparaga, and invited him to bring it to Sarnia.

“I love the idea that smaller towns provide an opportunity to screen films too,” he said.

Sparaga grew up in Niagara Falls, learned film production at York University and produced his first film, a super hero flick called Sidekick in 2004.  He’s only 35 and has already written, produced or directed three independent films and three documentaries. Several attracted international attention.

Sparaga will attend the Nov. 4 screening in Sarnia and hold a Q & A afterward. He wanted to stay the next night too but has to leave to accompany his film to the doc festival in New York City.



WHAT:  United We Fan, the next CineSarnia film

WHERE:  Sarnia Library theatre, 124 Christina St. South

WHEN: Nov. 4 and 5. 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS:  $10 at the door.  Go early. Rush tickets are limited.

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