SXSW Double Feature – The Liberators and The Dwarvenaut
The Liberators: Directed by Cassie Hay, The Liberators tells the story of the St. Servatius church’s medieval religious artifacts, some of which were stolen from the German town of Quedlinburg at the end of World War II. In 1986, researcher Willi Korte accepted the task of finding out what happened to the treasures, working under the assumption they were taken by one of the occupying American soldiers. Korte joined forces with a reporter from the New York Times, Bill Honan, and they determined the artifacts were stolen by Lt. Joe Tom Meador, a soldier from Whitewright, Texas. Meador was an educated art lover who shipped the items back home to his family via the mail. He kept the treasures in good condition, and after his death, they went to his brother and sister, who eventually attempted to sell them back to the Germans. Korte encouraged the recently unified German government to view the books and reliquaries as stolen goods that should be returned to them without payment, but they were reluctant to pursue the case and eventually settled with the family. The Meadors received 2.75 million dollars for the return of most of the items. (Minus taxes and lawyer’s fees.) The location of two of the artifacts remains unknown.
This is a very intriguing film that raises a lot of ethical questions. Everybody in Meador’s hometown has an excuse for his behavior. He was viewed as a good person who either did a bad thing, or someone who must have been justified in stealing the treasures. No one comes out and just says it, but there is a prevailing undertone that the Germans had it coming after the atrocities committed in their country. But the point is also made that these ancient books and reliquaries belong to everyone, not just Germany or the church, and should not be hidden in some guy’s house. Meador’s family comes off especially bad in their unrepentant pursuit of money to return the items. The Liberators is less of a mystery – we know pretty quickly who done it – and more of a morality tale in which the viewer is given the opportunity to contemplate many sides of a complex situation. Unfortunately Meador is dead, and we don’t know what his motivations were, but this film manages to succeed even without that information.
Final Grade: B
The Dwarvenaut: Director Josh Bishop’s documentary The Dwarvenaut details the life of Dungeon Master extraordinaire and entrepreneur Stefan Pokorny and his attempt to successfully kickstart a multimillion dollar campaign for his business Dwarven Forge. Pokorny was born in South Korea, the son of an American G.I. and a Korean woman. Sent to the United States for adoption, he was given up again when he didn’t fit into his new family. He luckily ended up in the Pokorny family, were he was welcomed and loved. Growing up in a pre-sanitized New York City, he goofed off on the streets with his friends, blowing off school until he discovered art. Pursuing that as a career proved to be somewhat fruitless, so he ended up taking a job painting collectables, which just happened to mesh with his interest in (or obsession with) Dungeons and Dragons. Turning that love into a business was not easy, but he eventually created a company that creates tabletop terrain for D&D players. (Instead of using a paper map, it allows users to create a 3D model of the world they inhabit in their game.) After two smaller Kickstarter campaigns, Pokorny attempts a third, much more ambitious one, to hopefully create the world of his dreams.
My initial interest in this film stemmed form the fact that I am also an RPG lover, although my tastes run to horror-themed games like Call of Cthulhu rather than D&D. (D&D is too finicky for me and I hate high fantasy games. I know you care deeply about my gaming preferences.) I wanted to like this, but the film did not keep my interest for two reasons. I don’t really find people repeatedly checking their Kickstarter page for backers to be very interesting, and Stefan Pokorny irritated rather than intrigued me. I feel kind of shitty saying that, but it’s the truth. I really like personal boundaries, and he has no filter at all. But if Errol Morris can make me like (or at least sympathize with) Robert McNamara – a person I might be justified in reviling, Bishop could have done a better job of portraying Pokorny. Instead of just endless shots of him acting out or drinking, I would have been very interested to learn why D&D is so important to him and how other people felt about his Dungeon Mastering abilities. There’s an interesting story in there somewhere, but we don’t really get to see much of it.
Final Grade: C