Festivals

{Fantastic Fest 2021} Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

One of the best parts of attending a regular Fantastic Fest is the comradery created by the experience. If its buying a beer at the Highball or trying to predict the secret screening with your friends, watching movies at the festival is as much about the collaborative experience as it is about the movies itself. Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest manages to capture that feeling on film. While Cannon Arm is ostensibly about video games, its really about finding a tribe, a community, a place to gather and enjoy the company of others. It is movie that will make everyone miss what we had before the pandemic, but hopeful that there is a path back to those experiences.

Director Mads Hedegaard sets off to follow Kim Cannon Arm as he attempts to beat his own record of playing Gyrrus on one coin for one hundred straight hours. While the bulk of the movie does follow his journey the documentary is really about the bar that Cannon Arm plays at. The Bip Bip Bar which is a fixture in Copenhagen’s gaming scene provides the often warm but frenetic environment for the documentary. Unlike some video game bars in the states there is no doubt that the Bip Bip is a bar first. There is lots of beer to be drunk and when Kim must go to the bathroom in the middle of his attempt we are reminded that bars are about drinking and going to the bathroom is just one obstacle that gets in the way.

While there are a few talking head moments the bulk of the documentary is spent in the bar as we get to know the regular characters of the establishment. This merry band of drinkers each has their own favorite machine at the Bip Bip. Each person we are introduced to has an equally fitting game that they claim as their own. While gaming can feel like a solitary activity when its on a console, in a video game bar the experience feels distinctly communal. Each player goes off to play their own games but comes back to the bar to talk about them. And talk about them they do. Specifically they talk about the legendary Cannon Arm and his game of choice Gyruss a Konami special released in 1983. Its a fixed shooter space ship game which seems pretty similar to Galaga.

At its core Cannon Arm doesn’t have a villain. Its conflict revolves around whether Cannon Arm can accomplish what he sets out to. It is a well orchestrated event that is documented with such care and love that the audience feels like we are there cheering him on. As the patrons start to analyze how many lives Kim has left, and how many levels he must clear, the world record suddenly feels deeper than just playing a game. It is entirely about the local crowd finding their hero and pulling out all stops to help him accomplish his goal. It is not easy to make a film about a bunch of introverts who hang out in quirky bar and talk mostly about video games from the 1980’s. Kim isn’t much of a talker, often saying more with his intensity and frown than anything else. Somehow we immediately feel a part of this community. The gaze of the film is never from the outside looking in but rather the audience is treated as a member of the gang. Thick in the battle for the record, with cold beer in hand, ready to hold the door if Kim needs to pee again.

It may feel like this film fits within the paradigm of other video game documentaries like King of Kong. While those comparisons are obvious and sometimes warranted this movie steers away from too much of the insider baseball information that makes other movies less accessible. You do not have to love arcades, or video games to enjoy this movie.

I have a feeling if you are a fantastic fest person you will be a Cannon Arm person. The people of the Bip Bip are the people of the Highball. Their support of their hero thrilling and the record a symbol of all we can accomplish together. It made me miss the communal experience I have come to love so much from Fantastic Fest, as I cover the event remotely this year. The parting take away from Cannon Arm and Arcade Quest is that we should all go enjoy a beer at our favorite bar with our favorite people. Can’t go wrong with that.

Cannon Arm is playing through the end of Fantastic Fest.