Square Eyes Boards Immersive Video Game Pic ‘Knit’s Island’ Competing at Swiss Doc Fest Visions du Reél (EXCLUSIVE)

“Knit’s Island,” the sophomore feature by French trio Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse and Quentin L’helgoualc’h, competing in the Burning Lights sidebar at Swiss international doc fest Visions du Reél, has been picked up by Vienna-based film sales company Square Eyes.

It is entirely shot in the online post-apocalyptic world of DayZ, a multiplayer survival video game set in the fictional post-Soviet Republic of Chernarus, where a mysterious plague has turned most of the population into violent zombies.

Under the guise of avatars, the three-member film crew entered this world and made contact with its players. Their goal was to show how the gaming world can be a place where players become part of a strong community, they tell Variety.

“We were really attracted by this story of gamers who get together, who don’t fit this stereotypical individual concept of a gamer,” says L’helgoualc’h. “For many people [outside], this virtual world is linked to an idea of loneliness.

“But we managed to meet these people and found a real family. These players don’t know each other in real life – they’re dispatched around the world – but some of them have been playing together for a long time: they have histories, relationships, there’s a real friendship between them,” he explains.

This is what sets “Knit’s Island” apart from their debut feature, “Marlowe Drive,” also shot within the virtual gaming world.

“[DayZ] is a game that goes against everything we encountered in GTA [Grand Theft Auto] and our previous film. GTA is a game that is deeply consumerist and really based on the imaginary American dream. Here, you simply have to try to survive alone or in a group, to build your cabin in the woods. It’s really the antithesis of what we wanted to explore in ‘Marlowe Drive.’”

The three filmmakers had specific roles inside the game: Barbier was the director/journalist who conducted the interviews with the players, L’helgoualc’h was the main camera operator, assisted by Causse, who was also stage manager. Technically, all three avatars had the possibility of recording their screenshot footage, which offered them a diversity of angles.

At first, the trio roamed the game’s vast 250 km2 space. As they encountered the different characters and got to know them over time, they were eventually able to fix meeting times and places with them. While the start of the film shows mostly role-playing, gradually the characters talk about their lives outside of the game.

“First of all, between them, they are playing a role, and, little by little, all that crumbles down to make room for things a little more intimate. And so, they become this double character: the avatar, with a real person behind it. You start with something that looks like a play, and gradually you meet the people behind these actors,” says Barbier.

Half-way through the shoot, the COVID-19 pandemic hit France. Faced with the prospect of a lockdown, the filmmakers decided to spend it together in a house in southern France and continue shooting their film. This gave them a chance to further explore the thin line between reality and fiction.

“There was a mirror effect that was a bit strange for us, playing in this post-apocalyptic universe, with diseases present in the game, going to get medicine… And the reality that exceeded the fiction,” explains L’helgoualc’h.

Although they didn’t face the contingencies of a real-life shoot, preparation was key as the crew had to deal with the rules of the game, which requires players to have enough food, drink, clothes and medicine.

“The technical challenges were mostly to keep the camera going,” explains Causse. “The camera is an avatar that has needs, like water, meat, and especially medicine so that it doesn’t sneeze, because otherwise the camera moves all the time, it’s a hell of a thing. And if the avatar has lost blood, the camera switches to black and white. So we had to be very careful with that.”

The result is an immersive and existential deep dive into the world of gaming, accessible to all audiences, whether gamers or not.

The CEO of Square Eyes, Wouter Jansen, said of the acquisition: “We’re always looking for films that experiment with the format. Using a videogame as an arena for a film has, of course, been done before, but I don’t remember seeing a documentary where the film team is immersed in the game as characters, thereby revealing the documentary aspect and the dynamics of filming inside an online game.”

“Knit’s Island” is produced by Boris Garavini at Les Films Invisibles. Associate producers are Anna Medveczky and Joachim Herard.

The film has its world premiere at Visions du Reél on April 22. The festival runs April 21 through April 30 in Nyon, Switzerland.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.