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ADVANCE: Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary
Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

This review is a little unusual, in that the film is not only no yet playing in theatres, but when I saw the screening last Sunday morning, the directors were apparently still looking for distribution. I usually only review films I've seen in a traditional movie theatre as well, and yet I saw this on two mounted TV screens at the Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles during the 2015 Los Angeles Podcast Festival. But people in the podcasting world, and particularly those who listen to comedy podcasts or more specifically Comedy Film Nerds or even Doug Loves Movies, are going to be fairly familiar with this passion project by CFN hosts Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini.

Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary was funded entirely via Kickstarter -- creating a budget of nearly $140,000. That's even less than chump change by regular mainstream movie standards, even mainstream documentary standards (although his first was made for only $20,000 more than this, most of Michael Moore's documentaries, just by way of comparison, have been made for between $4 million and $20 million). They certainly put it to good use, traveling all over the world, from the Australian outback to Japan.

As the Kickstarter page puts it, this is a documentary "exploring the surprising personal connection between podcasters and fans. Connecting people like no other media has ever done." That is very much the point that comes through in the (mostly) finished product, demonstrating how podcasters -- and specifically Comedy Film Nerds and The Dollop's Dave Anthony -- have been surprised by their medium's reach around the globe. Fans interact with podcast hosts online and find them to be accessible; fans also connect with each other and form lasting close friendships internationally, sometimes even winding up married.

Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini visit remote Australia to speak with a man who listens to podcasts while working his solitary tasks, making them feel like they've gone to the ends of the Earth to find the person listening from farthest away. The visit to Japan is far more emotional: Sanae "Big Fan Japan" Narita gets to meet the Comedy Film Nerds hosts for the first time, after a few years of becoming famous in her own right as a far-away listener among other fans of the podcast. Narita gets quite the arc in this film, and deservedly so given her story. First she merely represented the fun of far-away listeners, but the hosts interacted with her increasingly, as did other fans. The same goes for The Dollop host Dave Anthony, who helped reassure Senae via Twitter that she was away from the biggest tsunami threat during the massive 2011 earthquake. All communications were down for a time except for Twitter, and podcasters and fellow fans alike helped to reassure her. Sanae came to the third Los Angeles Podcast Festival in 2014, and was hugely popular among audiences, deferring to her for preferential seating at podcast tapings and even receiving a giant birthday cake (I had a slice). At the time, I had no idea who she was or why huge crowds were gathering around her, but the Ear Buds documentary lays out the story with efficient clarity, culminating in her getting to meet Dave Anthony and other fans she had befriended online in recent years. It's impossible not to get teary when watching all these people meet in person for the first time, hugging and crying.

But Sanae is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of podcasting that Ear Buds examines. Clearly they would have been remiss in not discussing WTF with Marc Maron, which had long already been a historically significant podcast, but just this past year became the first one to feature a sitting President as a guest. If there is anything disappointing about Ear Buds, it's that there is no formal sit-down interview with Maron -- only a brief clip of him talking to the directors backstage at an event. Maybe he's busy. We do get an interview with Todd Glass, who famously came out on Maron's podcast. There's also fascinating footage of Graham Elwood interviewing The 40-Year-Old Boy host Mike Schmidt, who speaks briefly about having been let go of Never Not Funny before starting up a podcast of his own and building up his own fan base in spite of (or perhaps because of) his tendency toward self-sabotage.

But there's also a slew of intervews with fans, found in three different cities after a call was put out for people to write in about why they love podcasts. This brought out a lot of people who credit podcasts for saving their lives in one way or another -- either an entertaining distraction at a very dark time, or, like Mike Schmidt or Paul Gilmartin's The Mental Illness Happy Hour, just helping people feel less alone in their feelings and experiences. Much is made of the frontier-days era of podcasting being right now, because it's the only medium not (yet?) ruined by corporate influences. There are no filters here: podcasters have complete control and they communicate directly to listeners with no middlemen.

As comedians, Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood don't get too deep into the infinite subjects available for download on podcasts, proving that it's shortsighted for anyone to say that podcasting isn't for them -- but they do touch on it. Here it may be largely in the context of comedy, but the broader point is how podcasting reaches people on a deeply personal level not reached by any other medium. From that perspective, Ear Buds achieves its goal with rousing success.

Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood hard at work on EAR BUDS: THE PODCASTING DOCUMENTARY.

Overall: B+

Release date not yet known.
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