Way of the Puck

Reel NW

Way of the Puck

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Air hockey players battle to be the best--and to keep their sport from heing forgotten.

About the Film

About the FilmWhat’s it like to be a champion of a sport hardly anyone has heard of? “Way of the Puck,” a documentary by Tacoma-born filmmaker Eric D. Anderson, follows four air hockey players as they battle each other for world supremacy -- and battle the world to save their beloved sport from extinction. 

“Way of the Puck” examines air hockey’s brief but tumultuous history -- from its unlikely connection to NASA during the Cold War, to the contemporary brand of ESPN-ready, high-octane, professional play, to its current existential crisis. Can a passionate community of players keep the game alive?

About the Filmmaker

About the FilmmakerEric D. Anderson is a Tacoma-born writer, director, and cameraman. He earned a degree in film production from Evergreen State College in Olympia, eventually moving to Los Angeles to work as a professional cameraman. “Way of the Puck,” a documentary six years in the making, is his first feature film.

These days, Anderson is revising his first novel, “Tacomaland,” and polishing the script for his next film, an existential comedy about ping-pong and failure called “The Secret Unbelievable.”

Filmmaker's Student

On the surface the story of air hockey seems like a story with low stakes. Or no stakes at all. “Air hockey?” people often ask. “That game from the 70s? Hunh.” Then they either perk up and become animated and make the air hockey salute--elbow out, wrist cocked, wiping a half-closed fist across an imaginary table--or they grunt and walk away. Air hockey isn’t the unpopular kid who gets kicked around at recess; air hockey is the kid no one notices, including the teacher. It’s a forgotten arcade game, a kid’s game, a relic, a hobby, a diversion, a trifle —and what could be less important than that?

Well, I discovered the opposite. I discovered a passionate and intelligent community of professionals who devote their lives to this “diversion.” These are the underdogs. They know that they are participating in a fringe sport — they know they are sometimes mocked and that air hockey will probably never be accepted by the mainstream, yet they continue to travel thousands of miles to compete against the best players in the world. What is that like? To want to be world champion at a sport nobody knows about, and to know that the existence of this thing--the very thing they love-—hangs on by the thinnest of threads?

It’s this conflict that gives “Way of the Puck” its urgency. Air hockey has had a long run of near-death experiences and heroic resurrections, and, each year--as arcades and gaming centers vanish--its existence becomes a little more tenuous. One player speaks for most when he says, “That’s why I come to every national tournament. Because I never know if it’s going to be the last one.”

For me, it became increasingly necessary to immerse in this world and to document its tangled history, lifelong friendships, bitter rivalries, political machinations and swindles, and ongoing battle for self-preservation. In 10 years there might not be a Beast from the East, or a Juggernaut, or a blistering Cut/RWU combo, or a revolutionary Circle Drift, or a Catalunyan Air Hockey group, or a George Foreman mallet, or a phalanx of bald/goateed/chunky power players who look like relief pitchers. There might be none of these things. The incredible story of a man who ascended to greatness in a South American village—-by practicing his shots on an upside-down kitchen table—-could very well vanish forever.

So the stakes are high.

Even more important than that, however, is that air hockey is just really, really fun. And even though you might have been away and romanced other sports and forgotten about air hockey for a decade or two, it still loves you after all of these years. It truly does. It truly does.

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