What makes a hero super? First-time filmmaker Michael Barnett found out for himself when he set out to research, conceptualize and ultimately shoot the documentary feature, “Superheroes,” made its world premiere on opening night at Utah’s 2011 Slamdance Film Festival and premiers on HBO August 8th.
After reading about the Real Life Superhero movement online in articles that featured such prominent community members as San Diego, California’s Mr. Extreme and Orlando, Florida’s Master Legend, Barnett’s interest was piqued. Having built a career around commercials and music videos, he felt that the Superheroes might have made for a good first feature with a cool pop-cultural edge. “I had no idea this ‘movement’ even existed,” he says, “but after doing some research, I went to my producer, (Theodore James), and said ‘This could be it.’ So we went down to San Diego and met Extreme.” And that’s where Barnett’s journey makes its critical turn.
“When we started I thought ‘Hey there were people running around in costumes fighting crime how great is that?’ But what I found was something much more than a great piece of pop culture, something so much more human—a deeply human story about people who often have very limited resources, but are real and ready to do anything they can to make the world a better place. It’s the direct the opposite of apathy, in fact. I mean, why do these people do this, even if it means becoming victims of ridicule? It’s just so noble.”
“You know, it’s kind of hard to look back now at what my original intentions were,” he continues. “What I learned was that the world of Real Life Superheroes isn’t a ‘community’ in any kind of unified sense. They are very much individuals. What I discovered was that every one is motivated by something else—for some it’s therapy, for some a deep need to connect to the world around them, for people to care for one another… but the thing I like is that whatever their reasons may be, here is this mass of people with different approaches, all doing one thing: Working to change the world around them, and hoping to inspire others to do the same.”
But perhaps the biggest revelation for Barnett was more personal than professional. “Making this film has had a deeply profound effect on my life,” he says. “I spent the last year wandering skid rows in the darkest places in America, in every major city, walking through tunnels of homeless people… I get emotional thinking about how it’s affected me. Look, we all know the homeless exist, but you have no idea until you really see it—it’s sickening—and it’s the most important thing these guys do. Crime fighting is good, but I was most affected being in New York City, seeing Superheroes like Life, talking, touching, listening to these men and women—taking the time with someone who’s been stripped of everything, just to bring them some genuine human contact. I realize I still need some time, to get some perspective on how this will manifest in my life, but I am very aware of just how profound this experience, this year in my life has been.”
And how does he expect his own personal revelation to affect those seeing this film, these Real Life Superheroes, in action, up close and personal? “I hope that people take from this film that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re at—do something, anything, help anybody in any way you can, and it will make you feel better. It’s like Thanatos says, if everybody in their community did one thing to help another person, it’s like ripples on a pond. It will change the world. These heroes can capture the imagination of the American people and make us more inspired, less apathetic about our lives. Their adopted personae make people listen and suddenly care. I hope that message gets put to good use.
“Just stop, just care about each other.”
Learn more about Michael Barnett’s film “Superheroes” at: