Mads Hedegaard’s Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is, without doubt, our feel-good documentary of the year. Up there with the brilliant and also Danish documentary, Dark Blossom.
Where Frigge Fi’s Dark Blossom introduced us to the tight-knit friendship of a group of goth kids who were used to being outsiders, in Mads’ film we see the same dynamic but with a group of awkward but highly intelligent video gaming geeks.
The story centers around Kim ‘Canon Arm’, who has a passion for 80s arcade games and can play for hours, strategically gaining and losing lives to keep the game going. He wants to put his talent to use and achieve his ultimate crazy dream – to smash the world record by playing an arcade game for 100 consecutive hours!
The film immerses us into this world, following Kim as he prepares physically and mentally for this feat, along with the help and support of his friends. The film explores the world of gaming, delves into the private lives and psyches of these characters and their friendship, and takes a philosophical look at life, the universe, and well…everything.
It’s quirky, dynamic, highly hilarious at points, and deeply touching at others. We came away uplifted and wanting to watch it all over again.
With the film getting shown Stateside we hope it builds some more hype for when it will then come to the BFI London International Film Festival in a couple of weeks. We watched the film at Fantastic Fest and got to speak to director Mads Hedegard about how the film came about, his influences and inspiration going into making it, and what we might be expecting next from him.
NW: When did you first discover Kim and what was the lightning bolt moment that made you think: I need to make a film about this story?
MH: When I was at film school I became friends with a guy who worked as a technician at the school and was the co-owner of the Bip Bip Bar arcade. He invited me down to the arcade to hang out and when I walked in the door I was blown away by the music, lights, sounds, machines, and the atmosphere.
It was like stepping into another world. Then my friend introduced me to Kim and told me about his dream of playing for 100 hours. I thought that sounded insane! But I also thought that the simple narrative of a guy trying to achieve a big dream in combination with this colorful world in the arcade maybe could turn out to be an interesting film to make.
NW: Was it hard getting the group of friends to commit to filming the documentary with you?
It wasn’t hard at all, to be honest. First Kim and the other guys were a bit shy and so on, but so was I.
MH: I was very honest with them that I didn’t know anything about arcade gaming, but that I liked them as people and thought that they could be interesting characters to portray in a film, and from then on they’ve been so generous and welcoming.
We quickly became friends and it’s just been a complete joy to work with them and get to know them on a personal level as well.
NW: We got some serious Scott Pilgrim vibes from this film – what were some of your inspirations going into making it?
MH: Actually, my first thought was that I wanted the film to feel like an ABBA song… entertaining, warm and exuberant. I know a lot of people don’t like ABBA, but I really love them and think their pop music is genius. So that was the first inspiration.
That and the first 6 pages or so in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood… An outsider’s view on a community, but a view filled with love and understanding.
After that, there’s been a lot of other influences including Edgar Wright’s films but maybe most of all the TV show Better Call Saul which I think is brilliantly inventive and inspiring.
And then Bach’s music has been a big inspiration, we’ve tried to structure the film as he structured his fugues, but that may be a bit too technical and theoretical to get into.
NW: Talk to us about Bip Bip Bar – what was your first experience with the bar and what is one of your fondest memories?
MH: As I mentioned in the beginning Bip Bip Bar is a place full of energy and colors and music. So I wanted the film to be like that. But more importantly, Bip Bip Bar and The Shed, which is another arcade in the film, are places where you are allowed to be yourself no matter who you are.
They are places where you don’t have to pretend to be in a good mood if you’re not and places where everyone is very open and welcoming. And places where people meet and share their passion for the games.
NW: What have you got lined up next – might we get to revisit these guys again?
MH: Actually, I’m working on something completely different at the moment. A narrative feature which is a revenge thriller set in the stone age 6000 years ago… So it doesn’t get much different than that.
But I’m also thinking about how to keep working with Kim and the other guys and I’m trying to come up with kind of a spin-off to the film but I haven’t cracked that nut just yet.
NW: Finally, what have you watched, read, and listened to recently – any recommendations?
MH: Lately, I’ve been very busy on the stone age project so I haven’t seen that much to be honest. I’m very much into music and I really like Anika’s new album Change. She’s a Berlin-based British musician doing some very cool krautrock-inspired music, so I would definitely recommend her.
And I liked Kelly Reichart’s new film First Cow quite a bit when I saw it a while back. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything new but I have a giant stack of books I’m hoping to get into soon. I like Dante’s The Divine Comedy so that one might be next on my list just because it’s the 700th anniversary of that book.
WATCH THE ‘CANNON ARM AND THE ARCADE’ QUEST TRAILER HERE:
Interview by Alex Minnis
We caught ‘Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest’ at FANTASTIC FEST 2021 – you can next catch it when it premieres in the UK at BFI London International Film Festival – make sure you do!
We will keep you posted when there is an official release in cinemas and VOD.