Indie Game: The Movie: Sundance Film Review

Indie Game: The Movie

World Dramatic Competition

Compelling glimpse into artistic compulsion in video games.

Winner of the fest's world cinema documentary editing award, the film follows two video game creators who define themselves by their "art."

PARK CITY -- These guys are auteurs: Two video game creators who define themselves through their “art.” Yes, “art,” that's what these guys see as their game creation. Good for them, especially, the fact that they don't want their games to be “professional.” Namely, they don't want them dummied-down for the mass market. Sound like any other art/industry we know?

Not surprisingly, Indie Game was a perfect fit for the maverick, indie-spirits here at Sundance. Commercially, it might find its most hospitable venue on such guy-outlets as Spike TV. It will play to positive reaction on the festival circuit, and with new digital distribution, should find an appreciative niche.

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Even Baby Boomers, who are generally condescending and oblivious to the video game world that sprang up in the late '70s, might be captivated by filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky portrait of these gamy, game creators.

In their world, these guys are auteurs. Not surprising, they are anti-social recluses: Designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes define their identity through their game, and, if they can't pull it off, well, life won't be worth living. That's the kind of pressure they put on themselves.

Their standards, are similar to many indie filmmakers here: If their “art”  doesn't connect with the viewers who appreciate it –  even if the reviews are good and the general audience likes it -- they will be, by their tough self-standards -- failures.  They want to connect, and, most specifically, they want to create a game that would appeal to their 13-year old selves.

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They adamantly refuse to join the video-game industry; that would be selling out their very souls: They reject the video-industrial complex where new games are simply amped up and dummied down for the mainstream gamer. Their uber-game, Super Meat Boy, is in parts a parody of the mainstream video games. The gamesmanship necessary to navigate requires a quirky sensibility and and off-track emotional radar.

Filmmakers Pajot and Swirsky are insightful, and it is likely their own journey in making such a film, has strong similarities to the quest of these gamers. Well-crafted and intelligent, this film is an illumination of the agony of creation – the self-doubt, the obsession, the life sacrifices – that are the core, not merely the side-effects of those define themselves through “art.”

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Documentary Competition
Sales: The Film Sale Company
Production companies: BlinkWords Media
Cast: Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes, Phil Fish, Jonathan Blow
Directors/producers, directors of photography, editors: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky
Music: Jim Guthrie
No rating, 104 minutes