Festival Daily

By Kate Lawrie

Sometimes being part of a film crew continues long after the credits roll. Witness the fab-foursome that came to Toronto in support of their documentary The Dungeon Masters: director Keven McAlester, editor Christine Khalafian, producer Phil Hay and maverick cinematographer (and TIFF party legend) Lee Daniel. Throughout their week here, they eagerly awaited – then happily celebrated – the world premiere of their big-hearted verité portrait of the lives of several adult players of Dungeons and Dragons. Between mad dashes to theatres and party hopping, I quizzed Keven, Phil, Christine and Lee on the film and their time in our fair metropolis.

Q: How did you get involved in The Dungeon Masters?
PH: Personally, I was a longtime gamer. My friends and I played everything – from D&D to Call of Cthulhu (our favourite) and many stops in between. So a few years ago, the producers – me, my writing partner Matt Manfredi, Kel Symons and Brian Gerber – had the idea to make a movie about creativity, and the people who keep creativity alive in their lives as adults, no matter what the personal cost. Keven was the only person we wanted to approach with this idea. He got into it and shaped everything from there.

KM: I’d just finished my first feature doc [You’re Gonna Miss Me], which was about the schizophrenic musician Roky Erickson. Since it had a lead who couldn’t really tell his own story, I felt pretty strongly that I wanted my next film to be the exact opposite – I wanted it to contain subjects who could tell their own stories very well. So when the producers approached me with the idea of a film about gamers, it immediately struck a chord. I’ve also been endlessly fascinated by the iconography and baroque language of gaming.

CK: I got a call from one of the producers. I thought the idea was circus amazing!

LD: Keven asked me to work with him in spite of the fact that I criticized his diet.

Q: How was the premiere?
KM: It was exhilarating. I especially enjoyed hearing reactions from either end of the audience spectrum: the gamers reacting positively to and identifying with the subjects, and the non-gamers quickly grasping the game and then reacting similarly.

CK: It was great – the crowd made it all worthwhile!

PH: We had a lot of fun. [Actor and comedian] Patton Oswalt was there and launched into a long question in the Q&A, deep in character, that ended with a demand for an apology because at one point, through “camera trickery,” Keven “unauthentically” and “offensively” depicted people rolling percentile dice instead of 20-siders.

Q: What is your favourite moment or shot in the film?
KM: I’ll leave that to an audience, but let me give you a half-answer by saying that I think Blonde Redhead’s score is genuinely inspired and makes the film better in ways that I could only have hoped for before they agreed to work on it.

CK: The entire ending.

LD: When Scott’s boy plays with his face like it’s like Silly Putty.

PH: The score is particularly beautiful there, and it’s a very loving and peaceful moment.

Q: Is this your first time at TIFF? What do you think of the Festival?
KM: This is my first time at TIFF and it’s been great. I can't imagine a better programme; I only wish I had another two weeks to watch all the films.

LD: It’s my fourth time to this Fest – it’s the best.

PH: Yes, and I’ve had a great time, but unfortunately my stay is so short I haven’t had the chance to see many movies. Everybody knows TIFF is one of the top few in the world, so it’s exciting to be a part of it and awesome validation of the film.

Q: Has anything surprised you about the city?
PH: I’m staying in a great hotel in a neighbourhood [Queen Street West] that reminds me of San Francisco more than anything else. I didn’t necessarily expect that.

CK: Yes – veggie hot dogs at the street stands!

LD: The first time I was here, I was surprised to observe a citizen scratch off a lottery ticket, and then upon realizing the doomed result, walk almost 10 metres to the rubbish bin on the street to deposit the useless paper in the trash.

Q: Wait – what’s weird about that?
LD: Well, elsewhere, he would have just dropped it. This is one clean city.

Q: Got it. I guess Torontonians take that kind of thing for granted. What are the best things you've done since you've been here?
LD: I partied with Ron Mann!

PH: The screening was a high point. We had a great dinner with the crew and friends afterwards and went to the SXSW karaoke party. Sadly, the lineup for the mic was too long for me to wow the city with my signature take on “Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring. Next year. Be ready, Toronto. Be ready.

Q: What can we watch for next from all of you?
KM: Short term, I’m doing a piece for the Berlin Academy of the Arts for an installation there about “national security” and terrorism called “Embedded Art.” Beyond that, I have a couple of projects in various stages of gestation, and hopefully whatever is next will involve working with the crew of TDM again.

PH: Matt [Manfredi] and I are writing a remake of Clash of the Titans for Warner Brothers. We’d all love to work with Keven again. I’d like to get him a narrative feature, because I think he’s amazing with character and story, and I’d like to see what he does when he can control what the “subjects” are going to say.

LD: Or we’ll all collaborate on a doc entitled American Nation, Inc. A bidding war ensues….

Sept. 12, 9:00pm, AMC 9