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Culture Counter: Green Screening

A young filmmaker geeks out with a documentary on John Green’s Nerdfighters.

The idea came to Ball State senior Hannah Lindgren a few days after her 21st birthday, when she spotted celebrity author John Green in a movie theater. After their brief encounter, she decided to make a documentary about the legions of fans that his video blogs have inspired, collectively known as the Nerdfighters. She wrote a proposal, sent it to Green, and received the same reply so many of the busy writer’s enthusiasts get: nothing.

But Lindgren was not about to take “no” for an answer. Borrowing a tactic from the social media–savvy author himself, she uploaded a video asking Nerdfighters to contact him on her behalf. After a barrage of tweets, Green gave his permission.  

The resulting documentary, A Film to Decrease Worldsuck, screens May 10 at the Indy Reads bookstore on Mass Ave. Featuring young people from several continents, the 42-minute film follows the rise of an online community that has grown to 1 million subscribers. Several dozen of them (as well as Green’s father) weigh in on how the local writer and his brother, Hank, have created a movement with their goofy YouTube videos on science and culture. “Nerdfighters are so positive and just want to spread Awesome,” says Lindgren, mimicking Green’s use of the adjective as a proper noun.  

The group—which fights for rather than against nerds—formed around Green’s  “VlogBrothers” YouTube channel a few years ago. In addition to religiously watching the videos (you can see these manic things for yourself at johngreen
books.com), Nerdfighters engage in a variety of charitable fundraising efforts. On the microloan site kiva.org alone, they have contributed more than $2 million for causes such as helping small businesses in developing countries.

In the film, members praise the dual aspects of the community, testifying to how it ended their social isolation and ennobled their lives. Despite the feel-good theme, though, some tension appears around Green’s celebrity. Lindgren, a telecommunications major who has produced both television and film pieces, had to resist the temptation to make “a John Green fangirl piece.” And since his novel The Fault in Our Stars catapulted to No. 1 on just about every magazine’s Best of 2012 list, the author’s discomfort with his own ubiquity motivated his refusal to be interviewed for the documentary. “I didn’t want it to be about me,” he says. “I understand that Hank and I are seen as the center of this community, but we’re not the most interesting part of it. I want the Nerdfighters to keep growing apart from us.”

If Green’s recent “fireside” video chat with President Obama is any indication, the group’s message has definitely spread. After a brief Q&A, the president signed off with a reference to the Nerdfighter slogan: “Don’t forget to be awesome.” Like Lindgren when she first saw the writer, Green just sat there, stunned.

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue.