[T]hey’ve been watching the Toronto Maple Leafs since they were in diapers. Now, a group of eight film students are documenting people who share the passion they’ve had all their lives.
In the world of sports, there’s arguably no fans like Leafs fans. It’s the reason the students are making a documentary entitled The Impassioned: A Documentary on the Greatest Fans in the World. The documentary will show what it means to be part of a group that remains passionate about a team that continuously lets them down.
It’s been 46 years since the Leafs last won a Stanley Cup. Director Stephen Hosier and producer Lucas Ford haven’t even been alive for half that time (21 and 20 years old, respectively), but they know the tradition of disappointment all too well.
“It’s a rocky mountain or a roller coaster as a Leafs fan, you have your ups and downs and you have your wins and losses, but you got to find a way to stick with it,” Ford said.
The past eight years have had more downs than ups though, with the Leafs making the playoffs just once in that time span. That was last year. The Leafs had a heartbreaking loss in the first round. But with the way they played against the eventual Stanley Cup finalists, the Boston Bruins, optimism in Leafs Nation seemed to be at an all-time high.
“The Leafs weren’t expected to make the playoffs last year, but once they did expectations jumped to a new level,” Hosier said. “Even though it’s devastating to lose, their hope didn’t diminish much. They were just as excited and expected more out of them this year.”
With that in mind, Hosier believed that this season was the perfect time to bring to life an idea he’s had for a few years: a documentary on the fervency that encompasses Leafs Nation.
Even some members of the crew jumped on the bandwagon. Deidter Stadnyk, 23, is another producer on the project who grew up in Manitoba, but going to school in the heart of Leafs Nation had him changing allegiances.
“I came here liking the [Winnipeg] Jets, but Leafs Nation is an infectious attitude,” Stadnyk said, now a Leafs fan for all of four months. As a new fan, he brings a fresh perspective to the documentary. He’s essentially the rookie coming to a team of seasoned veterans.
The documentary itself is a character-driven account that hopes to embody every perspective from a vast conglomerate of Leafs fans. From rich and poor to young and old, it’s a group of people that share in the misery of Leafs fandom. They all watch, react, cheer, and cope differently. They’re optimistic and they’re cynical. What bonds them together is a passion for their favourite team, but to understand that, the crew needed to look outside the game.
“To understand why they are the way they are with the Leafs, you have to take a look at their lives outside of the Leafs,” Hosier said.
The documentary focuses on the stories from a wide variety of fans that make up Leafs Nation. The goal is to find out why they’re so passionate and create a juxtaposition between the diverse culture of Leafs Nation. It’s also a chance to give everyone a voice; whether that be a little boy who dreams of one day being a Leaf, or a season-ticket holding lawyer, or a barber who has a shrine to the Leafs in his shop.
The team spent hours finding the right people for their documentary, like scouts at a junior hockey game. They handed out hundreds of fliers outside the Air Canada Centre and searched for hours online and through friends and family looking for the right fit.
While the focus is on the fans, the documentary won’t be without star-power. They’ve already arranged an interview through a family friend with Leafs legend Johnny Bower. They hope that more will come, specifically fan favourites from the past 10 years like Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, and Curtis Joseph.
In case you want to know how far the crew’s passion goes, Hosier admitted that he used to ask his barber for a haircut just like Joseph’s (a receding hairline no less) when he was a kid.
In terms of getting current players to sign on, the logistics are difficult with regards to their contracts. But Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has worked with them throughout the process giving them access to Maple Leafs Square, a Leafs practice, and even sending them to this year’s Winter Classic, which Hosier calls his fondest moment as a Leafs fan.
The Winter Classic was the climax of Leafs fandom in recent years, with Leafs Nation filling half of a 100,000 plus seat stadium with uproarious volume, six hours away from Toronto.
The fans battled the elements of snow and freezing temperatures, just to see the spectacle of their favourite team in an unusual setting.
“They talked about a ‘sea of blue’ and it really was. I would say that Leafs fans definitely overpowered Detroit fans, if not in numbers definitely in volume. All you heard was Leafs chants inside and out,” Hosier said.
And three members of the crew were there at 7:45 a.m. that day to take it all in as the fans poured into the stadium. Like all the other fans who attended, the experience to them was surreal.
Even more surreal was that the Leafs actually won, giving fans something to finally cheer about during another disappointing season.
While the Leafs started hot going 10-4-0 in October, they’ve been as cold as those temperatures in Ann Arbor ever since. They’ve gone 14-16-5 with only five of those wins coming in regulation. They’ve been dreadful. If anything, watching the Leafs constantly disappoint is just another life lesson for Ford, who’ll likely never stop watching and cheering for the team he grew up with.
“You have these fans that are still die-hard and still watching the games that we lose 7-1,” Ford said. “It’s how to deal with disappointment, how to deal with uncertainties. Being a Leafs fan definitely teaches you the hard knocks of life. I mean if I can deal with that I can deal with anything.”
The crew plans to have a 15 minute cut of the documentary ready for a film festival in May.