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INDIE GAME: The Movie – A documentary that’s (not) getting two thumbs up – doesn’t need ‘em anyway!

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Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

I’ve played FEZ — and soon you can too!

By: H. Blain

I just got home from watching the indie doc (and Kickstarter- funded) film, INDIE GAME: The Movie.

Appropriately enough, it screened at The Plaza, Atlanta’s oldest continually operating theater (since 1939) and has been a non-profit for two years. Let’s recap, shall we? — Indie film, about Indie game designers, shown in an Indie theatre. Right. I think if anyone was wearing Abercrombie & Fitch the packed house, I didn’t see it. Thankfully. I mean, sure, look like every other preppy bag-a-la-douche out there…just keep it out of my sightline, dig?
Where was I? Oh yes…the MOVIE.   The one I came to see with nearly 400 other folks who braved Atlanta’s crazy-high pollen count to be in the out of doors for as long as it took to go from car to theatre. I say this to tell you that 120 particles per cubic foot is high, and today it was over 9,300!

I had heard some good things from friends in Austin who saw it at SXSW recently and was pleased to find the two directors were coming to Atlanta to screen it here. This fact made it all the better to scoot into the lobby about 10 minutes before show time; buy my ticket directly from Lisanne Pajot, the co-director (along with James Swirsky), watching her make proper change in boring American green money and see so many folks who are a part of the Georgia Game Developers Association, ready to see what this film is all about. The documentary starts with a line being spoken by now semi-infamous designer Jonathon Blow, creator XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) game, BRAID. It came out in 2008 and sold 10,000 copies the first day.

The line goes like this, “Part of it… is not trying to be professional”
And while there is more to that quote, it gives a nice sense of the demeanor of the modern independent game designer. It doesn’t mean not doing a good job, having buggy code, or a product that alienates everyone.

It means, (in this context) that it is okay to not make a product for the masses.To do something you’re passionate about. To maybe not leave your house for days on end ‘because you’re coding, or when your significant other remarks, “I’m in the same room as you, but all I see is your back.” To go to Waffle House at 4 AM because you’re up, hungry, kind of broke and don’t have another person to share your life with because you’re trying to make a deadline…hoping to make enough on your passion project just to help your parents on their mortgage. To be the guy who showed a demo of his game in 2008 and still hasn’t produced it for the world.

 

The film primarily follows two groups of designers and coders; the team behind SUPER MEATBOY (Tommy and Edmund) and the enigmatic FEZ creator, Phil, and is interspersed with an interview with Blow discussing how long it took him to make a game he finishes (22 years!) and how much of himself he poured into making BRAID, and the disillusion he felt when people didn’t always (mostly) ‘get’ what he was doing and complemented him so much on the game mechanics. To be a misunderstood artist. The timeworn tale, no?
INDIE GAME: The Movie was funded by you. Well, maybe not you…but someone like you. Someone who likes either documentaries, or video games. Or Canadians. Or all three. Someone who wanted to help to polite Canadians (and is there any other kind…really? Hockey players don’t count) make a feature-length film about an obscure pop-culture sub-genre that most people don’t even know exists. Who knows? — What I do know, is that they asked for $15k, raised over $100,000 to make and then finish the film and get it sent out on the festival circuit.

 

James and Lisanne took it to Sundance 2012, winning the World Cinema Documentary Editing award along the way;  but not really getting a distribution deal that they wanted. So are doing it like everything else — by themselves. It will be available on blu/DVD and as a digital download in just a few months. Considering they were still shooting up until December of 2011, this is an amazingly short turn-around for a film…and part of why they’re doing it their own way. DIY or Die, I suppose.
Actually, I will wait for a proper film review until later, when I can have a sit-down (over the phone) with Lisanne and James in two months, when their whirlwind small screening/festival time is wound down, and they’ll be happy to go back to the great white north, (which will surely still be snowy by then) and talk with me. They were very gracious, talking to folks from GDA and regular people who just thought it was an interesting topic, and signing posters & selling t-shirts for about an hour after the film was done, even though they had to go to Seattle  for more screenings in the morning.

 

And for those in the know, for whom this information is important: As the credits began rolling and before the Q & A started, I was talking with some gents in the row ahead as we all stretched. I said quietly, “I’ve played FEZ”. You could see it in their eyes… Instant Street Cred for Holly. I played it as part of Fantastic Arcade at FANTASTIC FEST in Austin Texas last year. There will be more to come in a few months. Until then, here’s the trailer for the documentary, and their various links to find them to see if they’re coming to your town.

 

I hope this whets your appetite to look for this surprisingly moving and thoughtful documentary about an industry that very few know about, or appreciate — I’m lookin’ at you, Roger Ebert. Get off your old man high horse and take a gander at this. Then tell me Video games aren’t ART one more time.

Indie Game: The Movie Official Trailer from IndieGame: The Movie on Vimeo.

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   ~H. Blain is a freelance writer living in Atlanta who likes reading far too late in the night, most types of comic books, all things cinema (including being excited by certain names in the credits that you usually ignore) and saw The Empire Strikes Back three times opening day  when she was ten years old. You can find her on the tweety @MediaTsarina ~