The best documentaries are the ones that make the viewer want to do something. The film doesn’t necessarily have to be persuasive to any real degree. It doesn’t even need to offer the viewer any efforts he or she can participate in. All the film needs to do is convince the viewer that doing nothing simply won’t do.
In the case of “Indie Game: The Movie”, it isn’t particularly clear what the correct action to take is for the audience. The film puts on display the extreme stress and physical and mental exertion of independent game developers. Is the solution to buy more indie games? Is the solution to fight the larger studios? One could argue that the mark of a good documentary is its ability to spark such questions.
“This is my identity.”
“Indie Game: The Movie” follows the development cycles of two independent games and additionally offers a third indie developer’s reflection on his own development cycle. All of the stories involve intense stress and fear that the release will not be successful. Perhaps this film’s greatest narrative strength however is its ability to illustrate the very personal territory in which much of the games’ elements originate. It is particularly heartbreaking to listen to developer Edward McMullen explaining how his cute and innocent game Aether actually stems from a deep loneliness felt throughout his childhood.
The most impressive thing about this documentary is the amount of risk involved. Much of the film consists of interviews with the developers and their fears that several years of work will have been for nothing if their games do not succeed. It is very important to note however that these interviews were conducted in real time, and there was certainly a possibility that the games would flop. When the games finally release towards the end of the film to critical success, it is not a byproduct of the film in any way as the film only premiered following the release of each game.
Another important aspect that a documentary must keep in check is its tone. Since documentaries are grounded mostly in fact, statistics, and non-fiction narrative, it is often not very difficult for the film to lack a certain warmth. In the case of “Indie Game: The Movie”, the film only occasionally becomes cold and strictly factual, almost entirely during Jonathan Blow’s reflections on the development of his own indie game “Braid”. These segments are still certainly very entertaining and informative, but unfortunately not quite with the extremely genuine tone of the other two stories.
This is regardless a very small price to pay for a film that strikes a terrific balance of informative and emotional. The stress and emotional torture that these independent developers go through is quite difficult to imagine, but there is certainly something to be said for a film that is able to humanize such an unusual topic and make its audience feel the need to act, however that may be.
Runtime: 1 hr 43 min