Some time ago, I was told by some gaming web site that this pair of first-time Canadian film makers were creating a documentary about making indie games and that they were looking for some Kickstarter help. I went and checked it out and it seemed pretty promising so I pitched in. They got funded and Indie Game: The Movie is now on a theatre tour with a home video release coming later. While I’m guaranteed a DVD (or hopefully Blu-ray) copy from my Kickstarter tier, I really wanted to see the finished product sooner and with a group of people who appreciated the type of stories being told. I was delighted to hear that they were doing a cross Canada showing of the film with a Q&A after so despite the high ticket price, I jumped in. Aside from losing about 15 minutes of the movie due to the incompetence of Bell TV (who was providing the delivery) and the Q&A not being nearly long enough, I was very entertained and was pleasantly surprised to see such high-calibre work from people who have never made a feature length documentary before.
Indie Game: The Movie chronicles tales from three well known indie game creators and their respective titles: Jonathan Blow with Braid, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes with Super Meat Boy and finally, Canadian developer and controversy enthusiast Phil Fish with the recently released Fez. The latter two are filmed during development of their projects (with Super Meat Boy releasing during the course of filming and Fez having come out just a couple of weeks ago) with Blow talking about Braid through more of a retrospective angle. The stories told are not ones of the technical or even really the design challenges of making these games but the emotional rollercoaster the developers are on as they deal with lack of sleep, money and strained personal and business relationships. We’re shown how the Team Meat pair are pushed to the brink of exhaustion trying to get their game done, only to find that Microsoft didn’t honour their launch day promotion commitments. We’re shown how Phil Fish had to deal with a former business partner whose Machiavellian delay tactics drive him to a near breakdown and how he risked being sued by showing Fez at Penny Arcade Expo without the partner’s permission. In the end, they all got their games out and they were all great successes but their struggles are epic and their unwillingness to be phased by them is touching and admirable.
Many documentaries that try to portray these kinds of emotional challenges often feel forced and even choreographed but everything in Indie Game: The Movie comes across as genuine. I never felt that creative liberties were taken in the editing process to create drama and emotion where there wasn’t any before. You are being told a story as it happened rather than as the film makers wish it had happened. I found myself leaning forward in my seat and tensing up when the characters were hurting and wanting to cheer when they finally achieved their well-fought victories. As someone who is not easily moved and can spot fake attempts at emotional conveyance a mile away, this speaks volumes to the quality of both the stories and the direction. This may be a movie themed around making video games but it’s three tales of human struggle and sacrifice at its core and shows just what people are willing to endure for creative expressions they believe in.
Whether or not you’re into indie games or video games at all, Indie Game: The Movie is something I think anyone with an interest in these kinds of documentaries should check out. It’s an emotional and inspiring ride that will keep you engaged and will seem to go by quickly. This is an incredible first effort from James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot and it’s great to see that it’s been a success for them. These two have a very bright future in film making and I’m happy I was able to contribute in a small way to getting this project made. I can’t wait for my home video copy and will no doubt end up watching it many times over. You can check their official web site for information on new screenings and eventually, information on the on-demand and home video releases for the general public. Anyone who is into documentaries or real stories of creative struggles will enjoy it and I highly recommend checking out a screening near you if you can.