Archive for May, 2008

SIFF closer look: Ben X


Asperger Syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder that causes those who have it to become focused on a single topic or subject to the exclusion of all others. People with AS are rarely cognitively impaired but they have poor social skills that make interacting with other people a challenge. “Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don’t know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures.” [Autism Society of America]

In the film Ben X, the title character is a teenaged boy with AS whose struggles with socialization make him an easy target for the bullies at his school. Ben’s only escape is in the world of online gaming, sinking himself into a game called Archlord. A particularly tough day at school sends Ben spiraling into a mindset where he views the bullies making him miserable as video game characters and starts to take action accordingly. I recently spoke with writer/director Nic Balthazar about the film.

“The beginning of it all was when I was asked to write a novel for young people who didn’t read,” a task made more challenging because, he says, “I was the writer who didn’t write.”

“The same day that they asked me, in the paper there was a story about a 17 year old boy who committed suicide by throwing himself off a medieval castle where I live, in Gent, Austria.”

The teen, who had AS, left goodbye notes in which he said that he’d been bullied to death. Balthazar used that incident as a starting point for his novel.

“I think a story like that appeals to your sense of justice,” says Balthazar. “You read it and you’re so damn angry. Any suicide of a young person is awful in itself.”

When he sat down to write the film, Balthazar envisioned it as a “three-act thriller” so it was hardly surprising when a producer read it and wanted to option it. Before the story became a film, however, Balthazar was approached by a young actor who wanted to do a solo piece based on the novel. Although the novelist initially thought it was a bad idea–how does one transform a complicated story with many different characters into a solo theater piece?–the actor wouldn’t accept a no answer and eventually Balthazar was convinced to give it a try. The theater piece had a lot of video pieces accompanying the actor, as well as video game footage and dance music, turning the book for people who don’t like to read into theater for people who don’t like to go to the theater. The play’s innovations made it a success, spawning 250 sold out shows before the story was finally turned into a movie.

There’s a serious message behind Ben X–per Balthazar, “why not use the medium to send a message?” but keeping in mind that people “don’t want to see that waving finger all the time” and gearing the film to a younger audience, he knew that the film had to be visually very attractive.

“This young boy is very much into video games, so we took that and with the video game universe, because of online community gaming, it all came together: this is a boy who lives in the alternate reality of video games and tries to train himself for real life.”

The film’s portrayal of the video game universe earned it a Red Star award for innovation at the Palm Springs Film Festival. Balthazar: “I think it’s well deserved.” He says that Ben X is the first film, or one of the first films, that has been partially filmed in cyberspace, by capturing images of game play. “It’s the wet dream of any director–your actors will do whatever you want.”

To ensure that online gaming was portrayed accurately, Balthazar and his crew arranged to “film” the gaming segments in an actual MMORPG called Archlord. It was an exciting experience for Balthazar: “I could do the most incredible camera angles without a crane or even a camera!” One of the interesting parts of the experience while creating the video segments for Ben X was his discover that high level characters are like “superstars” of online gaming and other characters will flock to be near them, requiring his crew to perform “crowd control in cyberspace”. To his relief, when the situation was explained to the gamers who’d gathered round the high-level character needed to tell the story, they were cooperative and he used a number of gamers as consultants to ensure that he was portraying their world as they see it.

In addition to making sure that he got online gaming right, it was important for Balthazar to make sure that he was getting AS right and so he consulted with a number of autism experts–people with autism, professionals in mental health and others. It was a challenge to balance the Ben character: “It is dangerous to overplay it, to underplay it, or to just miss the boat.” In the film, he doesn’t seek to simply talk about autism, he aims to tell the story as seen through the eyes of someone who is autistic.

“We define autism as a problem of empathy,” Balthazar says, which means that “autism is a perfect allegory for so many adolescents who have the same fear. They don’t understand the world and the world doesn’t understand them.”

Ben X screens Sunday, June 1 at 4:00 pm at Uptown Cinema.

SIFF Recommendations: May 30-June 2

Here are the movies that Seattle MetBloggers recommend for your viewing pleasure this weekend at SIFF.

American Teen : Remember how much you hated, loved, couldn’t wait to get out of high school? Relive the good ol’ days in this A+ documentary about 4 very different teenagers growing up in Small Town, USA. Friday, May 30, 7:00 pm, Egyptian Theatre Saturday, May 31, 11:00 am, Egyptian Theatre [ba]

Strange Days : This shorts collection focuses on “the bizarre and the beautiful”. All of the films in this program are interesting and creative, but world premiering sci-fi drama “Third Days Child” by local director SJ Chiro, about a future in which not all children are every day children deserves note for its excellent cinematography, story and acting. [zg]

Friends & Lovers : If you like your movies short and sweet, then see these charming shorts about, you guessed it, friends and lovers. Friday, May 30, 7:00 pm, SIFF Cinema [ba]

Idiots and Angels : Idiots and Angels is the newest animated film from Bill Plympton. It tells the story of a bitter, frustrated man who spends his nights at a bar hassling the other customers. Then one day he wakes up with a pair of angel wings on his back and is inspired to start doing good deeds worthy of those wings. Friday, May 30, 9:30 pm, Uptown Cinemas Saturday, May 31, 4:00 pm, Uptown Cinemas [patriciaeddy]

Garden Party : Five characters in search of success in LA seek it in overlapping tales about hope and heartbreak in this funny film whose humor is sometimes sweet, sometimes acerbic. Sure, other movies have explored these themes but rarely with such a fresh perspective. Friday, May 30, 7:00 pm, Pacific Place Saturday, May 31, 1:30 pm, Pacific Place [zg]

The Family Picture Show : If you’re thinking that a collection of family friendly shorts means a bunch of boring movies only a kid could like, you are way wrong. From the heart string pulling “Absolutely Afro” in which 12 year old Hanneke is frustrated by her beautiful afro because she lives in a town where everyone has straight, blonde hair to the stunning collage animation of “Herzog And the Monsters” to the laugh-out-loud story of a rebellious zoo animals in “Zoologic” and all points in between this collection offers up something for everyone, regardless of age. Saturday, May 31, 11:00 am, SIFF Cinema [zg]

SIFF Review: Let the Right One In

So you’ve just woken up on Saturday morning and you’re turning to your friendly neighborhood MetBlogs to figure out what to do today. Do you want to see a movie? What type of movie do you want to see?

Do you want to see a horror flick?
A love story?
A coming of age story?

How about all of the above?

Yes, you can actually have all of those genres in ONE movie. Today! At SIFF!

Let the Right One In, a Swedish movie with English subtitles, is actually all of those movies rolled into one. It tells the story of Oskar, a little boy who is the victim of school bullies. He’s twelve, so of course he doesn’t tell his parents about the bullying. He’s from a broken home, is more of a geek than a jock, and just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. He spends his evenings outside his apartment complex, in the snow, pretending to stab the bullies with a knife or playing with his Rubik’s Cube. But then two mysterious people move in next door. The father figure keeps to himself, except for an odd hobby of killing people and draining their blood and the young girl, Eli, is the vampire. She befriends Oskar and well… the rest of the movie unfolds from there.

The movie wasn’t particularly violent or gory. There were a few parts, of course, after all, it is a vampire movie. But the bloody parts were well spaced and in general, over quickly. The story seemed to fly by. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about going to this movie. It’s been a long week and I was exhausted. I worried that a nearly two hour movie would either put me to sleep or leave me chomping at the bit to leave. This movie held my interest, despite not being particularly action-packed. The 117 minutes practically flew by. I think the ending was nearly ideal.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5. You can see it today, Saturday, May 31st at 11am at the Uptown.

Wing Luke Asian Museum re-opens

If you’ve never been to the Wing Luke Asian Museum, you really ought to go. Heck, you ought to go even if you have been since there’s a brand new expanded Wing Luke Asian Museum that just happens to be having its Grand Opening celebration this weekend.

Saturday, May 31, head down to the museum between 11 am and 6 pm to see the new space. Early risers: get there at 10 am and you can see a multicultural drumming performance and the ribbon-cutting ceremony. On Sunday, June 1 the museum will be open from noon to 5 pm; there’s a cultural ceremony along with lion and dragon dances at 11:30 am.

Both days at the museum are free and open to the public. The Wing Luke Asian Museum is located at 719 S. King St in the International District.

Surprise! Our Internet Is Slow

From the Department of Surprising Rankings: The state of Washington, according to Akamai’s recently published State of the Internet Report [#], has the slowest Internet connectivity speed in the country. It’s been widely known that as a country we pretty much suck at delivering high speed Internet. What’s surprising is that Washingtonians are suffering the most.

If I tried to add anything more to this post it would hang. So, talk amongst yourselves. But not here. I use Qwest and I need the bandwidth. Try picking up a phone.

[Via Ars Technica]


The Seattle Times said it best:

Just two months ago today, the Mariners began their 2008 season with hopes of contending for a division title. Today, all they are contending for is the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, which is automatically awarded to the worst team in the major leagues.

Xbox 360 Live Pitch

As you’re probably aware of by now, Microsoft’s Xbox will be the primary sponsor of the Seattle Sounders FC MLS franchise. As part of this sponsorship, they’ll be making some adjustments to Qwest Field. The plan is to close off the upper decks leaving roughly 24,000 seats available to fans in the lower bowl and north and south endzones. Additionally, they’ll be covering the upper bowl and Hawk’s Nest (remember when the M’s did the same thing at the Kingdome?). Here’s an artist’s rendering of what the new Xbox Live 360 Pitch will look like on match days.

Xbox 360 Live Pitch
photo courtesy of Associated Press/Seattle Sounders FC

Exploring Seattle: The Olympic Peninsula

Alright, so it’s not really Seattle… but you can circumnavigate the entire Olympic Peninsula, see the mountains, the beaches and the rainforest, and still get home in time for dinner. Of course, doing the whole thing in a single day might be a little ambitious. So, we only drove 3/4 of the way around the peninsula and back on Memorial Day, and it was still a 14-hour trip mostly spent in the car. My recommendation: It’s a worthwhile destination for a weekend getaway, but take two days and camp or get a hotel to break up the driving.

Here’s a quick pictorial:


Seattle: second fittest city in the USA

According to this article in USA Today Seattle is the second fittest city in the USA, following San Francisco.

Ranking was done by the American College of Sports Medicine whose considerations in ranking the cities were a variety of health indicators including the number of people who exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, follow a healthy diet, have access to health care and have health insurance, and don’t smoke. Other factors include the availability of parks, walking/bike trails and public transportation.

Coming in at number 3 was Boston; rounding out the top 10 were Washington, DC; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Chicago; Dallas/Ft. Worth; New York City; and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.

The Seattle Parks Department says that Seattle has over 400 parks and open areas that make up over 6200 square feet of park land.

Seattle’s Message

I read an essay today that talked a lot about the kinds of messages cities send. The author talks a lot about why Cambridge is better than everywhere, since it’s message is “you should be smarter,” but he also touches on places from Paris to New York to Silicon Valley. Sadly, though, he failed to mention Seattle even once (probably because he hasn’t lived here).

So, what do you guys think- what message does Seattle send to its inhabitants and the rest of the world?

(Hat tip: Seattle’s own SEOmoz)

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.