Friday, May 18, 2012

INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, from Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky, should entice everyone -- gamers and non-gamers alike

He has no idea what your standing might be in the world of video games, but TrustMovies has not played one since... Pac-Man. Further, he will probably not play another before he becomes that well-known mix of calcium, ashes and dust. Did this fact undercut his enjoyment of the new documentary INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE? Not one whit. You don't need to be a video-game player to understand and appreciate this funny, surprising and surprisingly moving paean to creativity and luck among the geeks and nerds who design these odd playthings. (And there is no disrespect intended by the g&n apellation: TM has always aspired to being one or the other or both, without ever quite achieving either.)

What the two talented and smart, first-time filmmakers Lisanne Pajot (above, left) and James Swirsky (above, right) do here is round up a few folk who design these games -- some well-known, some not-so (both the games and their creators, although that has now changed since the games have been released  to the public) -- then let us watch and listen as their people work, talk and wonder if what they're doing will result in what they want.

These are not the designers of the big, much-heralded-and-marketed "company" games, but rather the little independent versions (such as the one above), which look and act rather in the same way that do small independent movies against the Hollywood behemoths. (One of our game designers tells us succinctly, "Halo is shit. I don't make shit.")

These people are so funny and real, so much fun to be around, and sometime pretty sad, too, that they (and the filmmakers capturing them) win us over almost immediately. Pajot and Swirsky do a yeoman job of informing us non-game-players about the industry, how games are marketed, what makes these particular games so special and how they have come into being. All of this is genuinely interesting and some of it rather surprising.

We meet and hear from a fellow named Jonathan Blow (above), a video game visionary whose game Braid (the game shown three stills above) set new standards for the genre (for a lot more on Blow, see this month's Atlantic magazine) and who has been working in the field for almost a quarter century. This guy strikes me as pretty amazing: Just watching him, hearing his quiet voice and what he has to say is riveting and inspiring.

The fellows we most concentrate on (evidently not a lot of young women are yet involved in creating video games...) are Edmund McMillen (above) and Tommy Refenes (below) who have been working long and hard on a new collaboration...

...called Super Meat Boy (a shot from which is shown below). Tommy's parents have mortgaged their house to help him continue his work, and he's determined to pay them back with something that will ensure their having some viable senior years. Ed (and his significant-other Danielle) are hoping to start their married life with a new place to life, and maybe a dog.

Another young man we meet named Phil Fish (below) is working on a "cubistic" kind of game called Fez (further below), trying his best to bring it to full fruition in time for the annual gamers convention to which game geeks from around the world show up to check out the latest offerings.

The debut is Fez is particularly suspenseful, as we learn, almost from the beginning, that something is wrong. But what? And why? We have some clues: an angry business partner who is threatening a lawsuit to prevent Fez from ever being shown. The sequence showing Fez debuting at the convention is so alternately frustrating and suspenseful that you'll be nibbling your nails down to the quick.

These two stories, along with Mr. Blow's occasional commentary make for a riveting trip into creativity, work, family, and the world of video games. I may never again play one, but I now have a genuine appreciation for what goes into their creation -- along with what kind of people put them together -- that I would never possess without this wonderful little film.

Indie Game: The Movie is also a generous one.  A full five minutes of its running time during the end credits are devoted to naming those many folk who had a hand in its making -- the longest set of thank-yous, movie-wise, that I think I've ever seen. The film, via BlinkWorks with a running time of 96 minutes, opens today, Friday, May 18, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in the L.A. area at Laemmle's Noho Theater 7.  Click here to see all upcoming screening -- in the USA and around the world!  Expect a DVD and VOD ability for the movie to take place over the coming year.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really admired the direction and editing in this movie. The cinematography is amazing!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon. This little gem is one of the more criminally under-seen independents of recent times. Glad you enjoyed it.