Magazine article Filmmaker

Dueling Docs

Magazine article Filmmaker

Dueling Docs

Article excerpt

This past January two filmmakers found themselves in an unusual situation when they brought their films to Park City. At Sundance was Lincoln Ruchti's Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, while at the top of the hill Seth Gordon's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was at Slamdance. Two documentaries shot at the same time and on similar subjects would be vying for distribution. But only one would leave with a deal.

Both Chasing Ghosts and The King of Kong shed light on a pop-culture craze inhabited by a peculiar group of middle-aged men who can't give up their love for arcade games; taken together, they are the videogame doc version of the competition between the dueling Truman Capote biopics, Capote and Infamous. In Kong we follow the David versus Goliath story of Donkey Kong high scorer Billy Mitchell as he manipulates and torments middle-school science teacher Steve Wiebe, who is attempting to break Mitchell's 25-year-old record. In Ghosts the best gamers of the '80s, who were immortalized in a Life magazine spread in 1982, look back on their rock star youths as arcade wizards and reveal what they're doing today.

Both docs have similar elements. They include many of the same interviewees and contain some of same archival footage. Ruchti began his project first. In 2004 he and producer Michael Verrechia came across the Life magazine photo that would eventually inspire their doc and began tracking down everyone in the picture, including Billy Mitchell. But they realized they had competition midway through shooting when the King of Kong crew began filming at the same places they were.

Gordon began production on King of Kong in 2006 after hearing about Wiebe's attempt to beat Mitchell's record. "Everybody always knew everybody else was out there," says Verrechia, who heard of a third crew shooting the gamers as well. …

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