See a medieval war in modern-day Maryland

Documentary filmed in area is free on Web site this month

January 10, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun reporter

Weekend warriors, clad in homemade armor and wielding fearsome-looking weapons, travel throughout the Baltimore area to experience the wonders of battle. But thanks to the Internet, the rest of us need never step outside our dens to join in the rampage.

Darkon, an award-winning documentary centering on everyday folks whose love of medieval sword-and-sorcery extends well beyond conventional game-playing, is available for free on a new AOL-sponsored Web site. This month, visitors to truestories.aol.com can stream the film for free or download it for $19.99. Beginning next month, the 89-minute film will be available for download only.

Directed by first-time filmmakers Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer, Darkon won the documentary audience award when it debuted last March at the South by Southwest Film Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas. It also was an audience favorite at the Maryland Film Festival in May.

The film is named after the game, which one veteran player, Skip Lipman of Pikesville, describes as "basically a live-action game of Risk." For those whose younger days were board-game deprived, Risk has players moving armies across a map of the world, doing battle with one another in an effort to conquer as much territory as possible. Imagine a cross between Risk, football and an evening at Medieval Times, and you've got Darkon, the game.

"I love to fight. I love to challenge," says Lipman, who appears in the film as both himself and as his character, Bannor of Laconia. "There are precious few places that an adult can play a full-contact game with other adults."

The elaborately staged games - complete with "weapons" that look as close to real as is comfortable - play out almost every weekend throughout the Baltimore area, attracting scores of would-be knights, sorcerers, wenches and their ilk.

"I swear to God, we must have gotten off at every other exit on that Beltway while we were making that film," says Neel. He and Meyer live in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they met as boys.

The directors, who spent more than a year putting Darkon together, appreciate the increased visibility their film will gain on the Web site. True Stories was launched last month as a showcase for documentary filmmakers and currently offers 18 feature-length and 10 short films. The site features additional materials associated with the films, message boards and blogs where visitors can interact with the filmmakers.

"We've been on pins and needles, wondering what the future's going to bring with this movie," says Meyer, whose film will be getting a limited theatrical release this year. "It's cool to be part of this."

Stephanie Sharis, creative development director for AOL programming, says Darkon is typical of the kind of documentary featured on True Stories.

"We want to concentrate on films that have an active niche audience or address a hot-button issue of their own," she says. "We can bring a huge audience and let them know about these films. For many documentaries, getting that kind of exposure is critical."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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