Geek Documentaries: A Primer

Documentary filmmakers have been bringing us insight into topics both unfamiliar and dear to our hearts for many years, and geek documentaries are a welcome new strand to the form.

The Dungeon Masters.I love sitting down to watch what people would define as a “geek” documentary. A geek, to give you a quick insight, is someone with an in-depth knowledge of a particular area of pop culture, as opposed to an in-depth knowledge of a particular area of academia – also known as a “nerd,” and yes, I know it’s stupid. However, what this means is that geek documentaries are a fascinating opportunity to immerse yourself in an area of pop culture that’s either plastered across multiple t-shirts in your wardrobe, or a fandom you’re interested in but not a part of.

One of my personal favourites is Indie Game: The Movie. It’s a documentary about three independent game developers, and others in between, as the three of them (Edward McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Team Meat, and Phil Fish of Polytron) work on the projects that will make or break them. It’s incredibly deep if you’re a fan of looking behind the videogame development curtain, and very emotional, as it turns out releasing a game without a large studio can be pretty stressful. The film is a must-watch for those who want to know more about the independent game development movement.

Indie Game: The Movie.

To continue the videogame theme, King of Kong is a documentary that retro-gaming aficionados are going to fawn over for quite some time. Kong focuses on Steve Weibe, a Donkey Kong player who aims to top the global leaderboards of the game that saw the first appearance of Jumpman, later to be known as Mario. It’s full of drama courtesy of an unpleasant rival, but it’s interesting if you like seeing how far a game can be pushed before it breaks – and what knowledgeable players can achieve after that happens.

However, geekdom is far from being solely about videogames, and Trekkies should probably be your first stop if you’re venturing into other areas. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Trekkies are hardcore fans of Star Trek and its many different incarnations. What’s interesting about the film is that it focuses not just on people who are engaged with a passionate interest about something, but also the expenditure that goes with it, in terms of merchandise – an expense in any area of geekery.


From one convention-friendly community to another, one of the documentaries I’ve seen that covers hardcore fandom is The Dungeon Masters, a documentary about three Dungeons & Dragons Gamemasters whose obsession with the game defines their lives. It can be quite a sad watch at times, as the phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees” is an apt description of these individuals, but they’re remarkably passionate, and that’s something  we can all appreciate.

Definitely one of the most interesting geek-docs I’ve seen is something that straddles the board between the geek’s pop culture and the nerd’s academia – Helvetica. Yes, you’ve read that correctly – it’s a documentary about a font. But don’t dismiss it – for one thing, you’d be surprised at how many items the font appears in. Shortly after seeing it we walked out of our university building and marvelled at the fact that the first font we saw was somewhat familiar. But the documentary is also a remarkable documentary about how we’re surrounded by graphic design that we may not always realise the impact of. (Helvetica is the first of three films on design by director Gary Hustwit, the others are Objectified and Urbanized, reviewed by TFR. )

What’s amazing about the documentary scene in 2013 is how easy it is to find new work, via YouTube, and Netflix et al – with the former making it easy for documentary filmmakers to publish their work and share their cinematic studies of the world around us without the obstacles of studios and traditional marketing routes. My next stop? Being tempted by The Dungeon Masters and dipping into the world of YouTube documentaries to bring you new things to watch.

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