A pair of Winnipeg filmmakers who’ve spent the last couple of years producing a documentary about independent game development have received the heady honour of being selected for official screening at Robert Redford’s revered Sundance Film Festival.
Indie Game: The Movie is a passion project by partners Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. The co-directors were taken by the personal stories of independent game makers like Super Meat Boy ’s Edmund McMillen, who they met while attending a game industry conference in the United States. They saw these gifted developers as people driven to make games not in the hope of striking it rich (a rarity in the indie game biz), but out of a need to create and share interactive art. They thought it was a story that had yet to be told in film.
The duo funded their movie via winnings from a film pitch competition, personal investments, a successful campaign on kickstarter.com and DVD pre-orders. Bolstered by a surprising level of support from the gaming community, they decided to put their successful video production business on hold for more than a year and dedicated themselves to making a feature-length documentary.
Its selection for Sundance screening would seem to indicate that their hard work is on the verge of paying off.
Last year only 14 of 796 films submitted for the festival’s World Documentary category were accepted. This year, just 12 films were approved from what Ms. Pajot and Mr. Swirsky believe was likely an even larger pool. Even more energizing is that the festival has historically proven a terrific launching point for independent documentaries, including critical and commercial darlings like Super Size Me, The Cove, and Waiting for Superman.
In an email announcing their film’s upcoming Sundance premiere, the duo said they were “thrilled, humbled, and, actually, kind of numbed” to find themselves in such esteemed company.
This isn’t the first time a documentary focused on video games has found the spotlight. 2007’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a whimsical film focused on two men competing for the Guinness World Record score in Donkey Kong, became a cult hit and earned a 96 per cent positive review rating on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
However, based on early clips released by Ms. Pajot and Mr. Swirsky (see sidebar), Indie Game: The Movie has a much more serious and sincere vibe. Rather than focusing on the quirkier aspects of game culture, it portrays the medium as a platform for personal expression and the creation of legitimate art.
While a screening at Sundance is itself a distinguishing honour, an even greater prize would be a lucrative distribution deal. Last year 45 independent films earned distributors after being shown at the festival.
For now, however, Ms. Pajot and Mr. Swirsky are planning their own series of screenings. After the January premiere at Sundance in Park City, Utah, Indie Game: The Movie will debut in the directors’ hometown, Winnipeg, on February 3rd. Screenings in other major cities will follow. The film is also available to pre-purchase on DVD at www.indiegamethemovie.com.