Carlene Cordova is the director of the new documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans, a loving look at the worldwide cult that's sprung up around J.R.R. Tolkien's LordoftheRingsnovels. Cordova is herself a world-class geek for all things Tolkien, having fallen in love with the books in her early teens. She met her pal Cliff Broadway (the film's onscreen interviewer) a few years ago when they were both working for the Rings fan site, www.theonering.net, and what began as a short film for the site eventually transformed into a feature that was sometimes as trying, in its own way, as Frodo's trip to Mount Doom.
OC Weekly:I've read that one of your first boyfriends used to write you letters in [Tolkien's made-up language] Elvish. Do you really speak Elvish?
CarleneCordova:That was back when I was 15, and I think my Elvish knowledge has probably lapsed by now. It's a beautiful language. I taught myself to read it, but we couldn't really speak it because nobody knew how to pronounce it back then. We Ringsfans were all very isolated; it wasn't like today, where you can find out all this stuff online and there are all sorts of fan communities.
Well, I was kind of unusual in that I was really, really into Tolkien and other fannish things, but I wasn't really a nerd. I was one of the cool kids at my school! We kind of redefined what was cool. It was a little school in Ohio, and to be the smartest meant you were the coolest. We didn't know it doesn't always work that way in the rest of the world.
Well, we talk in the film about the spirituality of the books. Tolkien was very well-versed in mythology, of course, and with LordoftheRingshe set out to create a mythology for England. That mythology attracts a lot of people who are maybe disenchanted with the major religions. I was raised Catholic, but that religion did nothing for me, while Frodo's struggle did. I got into LordoftheRingsduring the '70s and '80s, and I watched it go from being these things you read if you were cool to things where it was like, "Yuck! You read those?"Back then it was kind of a secret, hippie thing; you'd get together with friends in your dorm at midnight and talk about the books for hours.
Well, the Rankin and Bass versions kind of turned Tolkien's work into dumb kiddie stories. And we couldn't use clips because of the rights issues; it just would have been too expensive. But we did license some of the music, and in the film we have some bands do incredibleversions of those Rankin and Bass songs from way back when.
No. It was mostly Cliff selling his stuff on eBay, although I did it some too. And it wasn't to finance the film, it was to survive! We basically put three years of our lives into making this film, and we weren't earning anything from it, so we had to sell some things to put food on the table.
We were very fortunate to have our producer, Tom DeSanto. He produced X-Menand a lot of other high-profile projects, and he found us some investors. So we had some money for the film, but it wasn't a lot. The film required a lot of travel, and we were on a shoestring travel budget. We'd pack our own lunches, stay in the same hotel room . . . often in the same bed!
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[Laughs] Oh, he just dressed in drag once. It was a fun thing for the Return of the Kingafter-party. Billy Crystal did these quick costume changes throughout the Oscar ceremony, so Cliff did the same thing. He was dressed as Elrond, then he was Eowyn. He did that line, "I am noman!"Then he pulled off his helmet and, of course, he was a man. He had an awful wig. It was just funnydrag.
YourfilmisgettingcomparedtoTrekkies alot;peopleseemtofeelthatTrekkies wasreallymeantofans,thatitfocusedonlyontheworstaspectsoffandom,somethingIdon'tagreewith.Yourfilmisdefinitelyasunnierviewoffandom,andIwonderedifyouencounteredsomeofthosemoreextremefans,peoplewhoreallytookittoofar,andyoudecidednottofocusonthem.
Actually, the most extreme people that we encountered are in the film. Trekkieswas reviled within the fan community—it really ridiculed fans. That's why Trekkies2bombed, because the fans had been burned so badly by the first one and they stayed away. We had to overcome a lot of resistance from the fans. They were worried we were making another Trekkiesand we'd make fun of them. But then when they found out we were fans too, they were like, "Oh, well, then . . . you'reokay."
NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL'S SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT IS RINGERS: LORD OF THE FANS AT REGENCY LIDO. SAT., 7:30 P.M. $15; THAT'S FOLLOWED BY A RINGERS FANDOM CELEBRATION AT FASHION ISLAND'S HARD ROCK CAFE. $50 FOR BOTH.