Seth Gordon: The King of Kong

János Richter, direction student at the Zelig Documentary Film School in Bolzano has written this review:

Billy Mitchell has a carefully styled mullet haircut and wears patriotic ties. His whole appearance communicates his conception of perfection. He is the owner of a hot sauce company and the world record holder in the arcade game Donkey Kong. „There is a level of difference between people that translates into games“, Mitchell states in an interview. On high score lists he appears as „USA“.

Throughout his childhood Steve Wiebe’s mother suspected him of being a little autistic. Wiebe works as a science teacher and is an obssesive drummer and a would-be composer. He started off with lots of different things, but nothing came up to his expectations. His biggest dream is to establish a new world record in Donkey Kong.

The film follows Wiebe who seems to neglect his family while trying to gain immortality in the world of arcade games. On the contrary, Mitchell is never shown playing the game in the film, though he states the importance of playing in public. He rather exercises himself in psychological warfare by setting people on Wiebe during his attempts to set a new record. At a tournament in Mitchell’s hometown Wiebe desperately waits to play against Mitchell who eventually shows up, but refuses to play. When Wiebe finally breaks the record, Mitchell responds by sending a vhs tape which shows him gaining a higher score than Wiebe just did. Nonetheless Wiebe is convinced that Mitchell made him a better person.

The flim is made in a conventional way – lots of interviews, lots of music, clear storyline -, but succeeds to entertain. One of the few stylistic exceptions is a montage in which we watch and hear Wiebe playing drums. It is intercut with images showing traumatic experiences from Wiebe’s youth and him playing Donkey Kong. The men’s efforts aren’t really being questioned, although there is a scene in which Wiebe’s daughter remarks that some people „sort of ruin their lifes“ while trying to establish records. It would have been interesting to find out more about the men’s motivations.

USA, 2007, 77 min.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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