Carnegie Mellon University

Philadelphia Reaction - Movie still

February 18, 2020

Wall Premieres Film Festival Winning Documentary in Pittsburgh

Mary Wall’s (CEE ’98) career path has taken her in a direction she may not have expected. While at CMU, she minored in Creative Writing and Spanish to balance out the intensity of her engineering courses. She soon discovered a love for visual storytelling.

Today, she’s preparing to premiere her first movie in Pittsburgh—a documentary titled The Fan Connection. The film has already been named the Audience Award Winner of the 2019 Buffalo International Film Festival and an official selection of the 2019 Film Festival of Columbus.

The Fan Connection focuses on the connection between loyalty, identity, and the ability to move forward against difficult odds. “It’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the lives of die-hard fans over a hockey season. Ultimately, it is a heart-warming story of what it means to be a fan, identifying with a city, and the power of ordinary citizens to affect change,” says Wall.

She was inspired to begin the project as she watched fans of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres support their team after a hard loss. She immediately noted the sense of community and camaraderie that the fans felt for their team and their city.

Directing and producing the film, Wall discovered that Buffalo fans were desperate to feel a connection their city. As industry left, citizens felt they’d lost their identities. Eventually, their loyalty became intertwined with the city’s sports teams. “People in Buffalo identify strongly as being from Buffalo—and as fans of the Sabres and Bills,” she states.

The Fan Connection has received media attention from ESPN, The Hockey News, and Buffalo stations WGRZ, WIVB, WKBW, and WYRK. Wall says that there’s something in the movie for everyone. “It is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve.”

The documentary follows three fan stories that unfold during a Sabres’ hockey season. A young man—who’d been told that cerebral palsy would keep him from driving—learns to drive again. A couple in their 90s learn to move forward after the wife’s debilitating injury. And a mother and daughter grieve the loss of their husband/father, remaining connected to his memory via their shared passion for hockey.

Wall mentions that her coursework at CEE was focused yet flexible enough to allow her to explore other areas of study. Following graduation, she worked as an environmental engineer for two years in Buffalo—but was compelled to leave and pursue her passion for storytelling.

She moved to Los Angeles and worked on a number of projects including the documentary-style TV comedies The Office and Parks and Recreation. Her writing for The Office webisode "The Third Floor" earned Wall and the writing team a Writers Guild Nomination for Short Form New Media. After seven years in Los Angeles, she returned to Buffalo to make the documentary.

The Fan Connection will play in Pittsburgh at the Parkway Theater in McKees Rocks from February 21-23. Wall will be at the 7pm show on Friday, February 21 and the 5pm show on Saturday, February 22.

Learn more about the film and other screening locations.