If you’ve been a Michigan sports fan for any amount of time, you understand a few things about disappointment. Detroit Lions fans have long gotten used to 4th quarter disasters, and even the Red Wings, who have been somewhat predisposed to winning, currently stand at the bottom of their division and haven’t seen a playoff game since 2016. 

What is it about sports that keeps us coming back to cheer for our teams, even when we know it’s a lost cause? In THE FAN CONNECTION, available now in our Virtual Movie Palace with member benefits, director Mary Wall finds an answer by following fans of the Buffalo Sabres, a team that has never won the Stanley Cup (and also currently stands at the bottom of their division), as they emotionally maneuver a hopeful season while navigating new chapters in their lives. 

While the documentary is heavy on the hockey terms and history, it is in fact far more interested in the journey of fans and their life-long relationships with the franchise. These are people who live for their team, and they douse the film with so much heart that it will make every viewer a Buffalo Sabres fan. The film provokes a sense of hope that this team will succeed, just so that you can see these people reward themselves with a long overdue celebration. 

Among the many fans featured in this film, Wall selects five with whom we spend most of our time. We meet Mark, a young man with Cerebral palsy, who is by far the most intense fan featured and who we also follow through his steps of learning how to drive a car. There’s Hannah, a teenager who inherited her enthusiasm for the Sabres from her late father, along with her mother Renée. And then there’s Frances and Mickey, the real heroes of this film, an elderly couple who have been fans since Buffalo joined the NHL in 1970 and who now watch every game together, even while Frances is hospitalized for a brief time. To these people, the Sabres mean more than just hockey: it’s inspiration to keep fighting and pushing themselves forward, and staying optimistic amidst difficult times.  

The most important character in the film, however, is the city of Buffalo itself. From the top, the story of this city is one that Detroiters can certainly recognize: a blue-collar manufacturing town, historically known for miserable winters and that between 1977-1987 lost 45,000 jobs, leaving empty buildings, silos and industrial plants in its wake. From 1950-1990, its population dropped 233,000 but from that loss grew the tight-knit community that exists there today.. We see how the people of Buffalo draw a tremendous amount of strength from each other, inducing a hopeful passion that is poured into building their home back up to its former glory.  

Pulling away from sports, Wall takes the time to explore the city’s blighted landmarks, like the Sabres’ previous stadium that was left vacant for 12 years, as well as the abandoned industrial silos. The community’s optimism is contagious, as we see people volunteering their time to renovate and repurpose these symbols of a more prosperous era. While these fans reach milestones in their lives, the city once again finds art, culture, and life. Not only does it drive hope for the city and its residents, but it’s also an observance of this country entering a new chapter and finding ways to adapt and thrive while industrial manufacturing is replaced by greener industries.   

THE FAN CONNECTION may lack flashy camerawork and production design but it makes up for that, and then some, with soul and substance. It’s a rare documentary that leaves you with a smile on your face, and an urge to get back to our sports bars and arenas to cheer our teams on to victory. Someday… Someday… 

The film is available in our Virtual Movie Palace until Friday, March 5th. And next Monday at 7:00 PM, join us for a virtual Q&A with Director Mary Wall, which you can join on Zoom or by finding us on Facebook Live. This Friday, two more titles will be added to our Virtual Movie Palace, which will also be available with member benefits, so be sure to check out ‘TIL KINGDOM COME and FOOD CLUB.  

Will be back next Wednesday with a brand-new blog post, so until then, have a great weekend! 

Nick Alderink