Description from TIFF 2008 catalog by Thom Powers:
Making a documentary on pop culture has many dangers, from nostalgia to smugness and condescension. The Dungeon Masters is a rare example of a film that avoids all of these pitfalls and portrays characters rich in complexity. It follows three Dungeons and Dragons gamers living in unglamorous corners of lower-middle-class America. Over the course of one year, we see how their real-life aspirations are fuelled by the worlds of their imaginations. Scott, whose self-deprecating humour has not translated into success as a budding novelist, struggles to support his wife and son. Elizabeth, an attractive twenty-three-year-old who dresses as a dark elf, seeks companionship after a failed marriage. Richard, who has a penchant for killing make-believe characters, aspires to reconnect with the real stepson he abandoned. Even if you find it hard to identify with the role-playing fantasy lives of these individuals, it’s easy to empathize with their human selves.
The film reunites the talents of director Keven McAlester and cinematographer Lee Daniel, who is best known for shooting many of Richard Linklater’s films. The first collaboration between McAlester and Daniel, You’re Gonna Miss Me, explored the schizophrenic world of singer Roky Erickson, and earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination. The Dungeon Masters shares that film’s discerning eye for detail. The opening scene at the annual gaming convention Gen Con establishes the milieu, as participants wander through Indianapolis dressed as magicians and swordsmen. The camera’s gaze may find the humour in the story, but it is also full of affection. The film’s mood is enhanced by a whimsical and haunting score by the band Blonde Redhead.
Seeking escape from life is a universal instinct. For some people, it takes the form of D&D; for others, film festivals. Our imaginations allow us to draw strength and courage to overcome life’s setbacks and surprises. In The Dungeon Masters, we’re reminded that all rewards come with a certain risk.
About the director:
Keven McAlester was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in Dallas. He studied history and literature at Harvard University. His directing work includes music videos for the band Spoon and the documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me (06). The Dungeon Masters (08) is his second documentary.