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Browncoats Find Redemption in Charity Fan Film

on Mon, 09/27/2010 - 00:00

Browncoats Redemption
“I’m not sure it’s a movement, but it’s definitely a very rabid, friendly, and large group of people who love Firefly/Serenity,” Michael Dougherty, the writer and director of the fan film Browncoats: Redemption, told SciFi Mafia in January 2010. “This group of fans is more than just that, they are a family. The best thing about them is that no matter where you are in the world, you can quote a line, mention an episode, or simply say ‘I’m a Browncoat’ and you’ll get an instant positive reaction and a conversation.”

It was in that spirit of camaraderie that Dougherty and a handful of fellow Browncoats—as fans of the short-lived Joss Whedon television series Firefly and subsequent motion picture Serenity are known—created Browncoats: Redemption, an independent film that takes place in the same future universe as the original but features a different cast of characters.

Despite the limited number of narratives that Whedon was able to complete, both Firefly the series and Serenity the movie have attracted a Star Trek-like cult following that continues to form a strong online (and off) community in the years since the television show’s initial broadcast in 2002. While Dark Horse has released a handful of official comic book adventures following Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew, fans still both long for and hope that additional stories from the ’Verse will someday be told.

Although not officially associated with the works of Joss Whedon, Browncoats: Redemption still offers to fill that void by continuing the larger Firefly narrative within the framework of something different yet familiar as well. Serenity, for instance, ended with the revelation that the controlling government coalition known as the Alliance had conducted experiments designed to suppress aggression within its citizens. Browncoats: Redemption, meanwhile, picks up three months later with the Alliance doing its best at “spin-control” while a growing unrest amongst those who favor independence as opposed to one unifying government threatens the ruling coalition’s grasp on power.

Browncoats: Redemption, however, is not the story of a potential civil war. Instead the film follows the meek crew of a Scarab-class transport ship named Redemption as they struggle to find work on the outer planets much like Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly. Led by Captain Laura Matthews (Heather Fagan), the group includes medic Cameron Alan (Guy Wellman), business manager James Banks (John Patrick Barry), former boxer Lux Lucre (Kevin Troy), the mechanical genius duo of Jack Haddington (P.J. Megaw) and Brett Gray (Michael Levy), and new pilot Petra Jo Chen (Miriam Pultro).

While the narrative begins with Matthews and her crew being hired to transport questionable cargo from one planet to another, they eventually find themselves as potential scapegoats as part of an Alliance plan to reaffirm its control over the ’Verse.

It turns out that the ’Verse is a lot smaller than one might think. Browncoats: Redemption, for instance, is filled with passing references to such Firefly locales as Boros and Whitefall as well as minor character like Badger, Patience, Niska and twins Mingo and Fanty from Serenity. While such mentions are no doubt intended as homage to the original source material, Browncoats: Redemption also incorporates the themes of family and independence much like Firefly did as well, and features a cast of characters that—although entirely different from those created by Joss Whedon—are both compelling and fully developed nonetheless.

Laura Matthews is a prime example. Although the captain of her own rag-tag group of space scavengers just like Malcolm Reynolds—she is even seen brandishing a pistol in the same fashion as her male counterpart in the opening credits—Matthews is not merely a female version of Reynolds. While the initial Unification War and subsequent defeat of those who favored independence is the primary driving force behind Reynolds’ desire to live free on the outskirts of civilization, Matthews’ motives are quite different. It’s not the government that she needed to get away from but an abusive husband and marriage instead.

Laura Matthews thus may wear the same “browncoat” as Malcolm Reynolds but whereas his garment represented freedom from government repression, hers represents a freedom from a more personal repression.

Just like Reynolds subsequently created his own family with the crew he chose to accompany him on the Firefly-class ship known as Serenity, so it is with Laura Matthews and the crew of Redemption. One can’t help but also think of the real world Browncoats when watching Browncoats: Redemption, meanwhile, and the sense of family that they created for themselves as well. Browncoats: Redemption is a fan film after all, and not just because it was made by fans of Firefly/Serenity or even for fans of Firefly/Serenity—the endeavor literally comes across as a narrative about the fans themselves and the community they have built around that fandom.

Browncoats: Redemption was briefly available for viewing on the official website in early September 2010 before being released as a limited-edition DVD, with all the proceeds going to charity. Fittingly enough, the charities selected by the producers of the film are those held closest by a number of Firefly alumni—Equality Now (Joss Whedon), Kids Need to Read (Nathan Fillion), Dyslexia Foundation (Jewel Staite), The Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center (Ron Glass) and the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation (Adam Baldwin).

“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” actor Adam Baldwin remarks on the bonus feature section of the Browncoats: Redemption DVD in regards to the charity work done by fans of Firefly/Serenity. “Anytime you can get a group of people who are motivated to donate to any kind of charity, especially in this economy, it’s a wonderful thing. And I think the networking that the Browncoat community has been able to bring has certainly helped.”

In the end, Browncoats: Redemption is not just a fan film but a shining example of what the Browncoats community is capable of accomplishing. Even years later it appears that they are still able to do the impossible over and over again—a “wonderful thing” indeed.

Anthony Letizia

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