Watch: Award-Winning Short Shot Entirely Inside a Video Game
And you thought video games weren't legit.
For whatever reason this week has been an exceptional one for discussing the cross-section of video games and film. Vimeo's latest staff pick premiere, however, pushes us into some entirely new territory.
Operation Jane Walk, the brainchild of visual artists Robin Klengel & Leonhard Müllner, lies somewhere in between a Twitch stream and mockumentary satire. It takes place entirely within the virtually constructed world of Manhattan from Tom Clancy's The Division. The 2016 release lets you play through the aftermath of a devastating pandemic that sweeps through New York City, which forces society to collapse into chaos. The short film is a guided tour through the essential history of the city's urban planning,
But if you thought that this sort of project wouldn't have the merit to be a festival contender, you better get with the times. The short made its premiere at one of the world's biggest documentary film festivals, IDFA in Amsterdam, where, as mentioned, it won the Vimeo Staff Pick Award.
"It's a fascinating repurposing of a post-apocalyptic world with a dark humor that offers timely commentary on urbanism, architecture, a video game's inherently violent design," Vimeo's programming team commended in a statement sent to No Film School and we're hard-pressed to disagree. As a part of the prize package, the directors also received a premiere on Vimeo’s Staff Picks. No Film School spoke briefly with Klengel & Müllner after their win as part of our ongoing series exploring the benefits of having a simultaneous online and festival release.
NFS: What was your inspiration for creating this film?
Robin Klengel & Leonhard Müllner: We were inspired by current triple-A games (blockbuster games) and the alternative worlds they provide: cities, regions, even countries are remodeled or simulated in digital space. Since gameplay mechanics and narrations are often narrow-minded and reactionary, we sought to appropriate those worlds and tell stories that were not thought of by the game developers. We were also inspired by the amazing level of detail in which New York was rebuilt in digital space for this game. As architecture enthusiasts, we simply had to make something about this hotbed of modernist architecture.
NFS: Did you face any challenges when making this film?
Klengel & Müllner: Artistic interventions in video games are always limited by the possibilities the software offers. In this game, for instance, you cannot even put away your gun-- it is literally intergrown with the digital body. You have to make use of what you’ve got, and therein lies the challenge. It took us a long time to find a peaceful way through this world. It is a hostile environment and full of characters that are trying to distract you from the architecture. It is nearly impossible to walk few steps without getting shot or killed. And then there is the weather, which is absolutely unpredictable! We often had to postpone filming due to heavy snowfall or fog. It is actually quite a tough place to shoot a movie...
NFS: What is your best piece of advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Klengel & Müllner: This is an awkward question for us because we do not consider ourselves filmmakers, but rather visual artists or anthropologists. Our advice would be to always look for surprising angles and new ways at looking at things. If there is a political layer or meta level, it’s perfect. Filmmakers and visual artist should use their stage to educate the audience and encourage them to be critical about what they watch, see and consume. And, of course, if it’s also entertaining, it will reach a broader audience.
NFS: What’s the value of displaying your film at a festival versus releasing online?
Klengel & Müllner: We are grateful that our film is now accessible and available to many people. Film festivals, agencies and distributing companies tend to restrict the access to cultural goods like films. We think it’s more democratic to offer our film for free on the web, where digital flaneurs might stumble upon it.
NFS: What does the Staff Pick Award mean to you?
Klengel & Müllner: Have you seen the number of people who watched our film after we received the Staff Pick Award on Vimeo? We don’t want to minor their importance as catalysts, but if we had only released through film festivals, we would have never reached that many people. And, of course, it is priceless to receive support and appreciation from such a solicitous jury!
NFS: What’s next? Any upcoming projects?
Klengel & Müllner: We founded a collective dedicated to artistic interventions into video games: Total Refusal -- Digital Disarmament Movement. There is a lot to do, we have many ideas! And since the game we used for “Operation Jane Walk” now has a sequel playing in Washington D.C., we are curious if and how we can develop our concept further. At the moment we are planning a second exhibition, where Operation Jane Walk and similar interventions will be presented. By the way, our collective is open for anyone-- especially artists-- who wish to participate in our mission to appropriate computer games in a humorous, critical and artistic way.