Stefan Pokorny is an American success story. His starts with a heartbreaking entrance into the world but quickly becomes a heartwarming journey to where he is today: the founder/proprietor of Dwarven Forge, one of the best designers and builders of the Dungeons & Dragons kingdoms. The Dwarvenaut follows him during his most personal and ambitious project yet: the $2,000,000 Kickstarter-funded construction of his dream city, decades in the planning, named Valeria.
On the surface and based on the opening, one might think that this is going to be some variation of a nerdoc: a documentary that bloviates about the history and legacy of something near and dear to geekdom. Instead, The Dwarvenaut quickly pivots towards a specific subject, the aforementioned Stefan and his passion. The movie follows this fairly regular guy as he navigates through the world as an entrepreneur in the commercial world of geek culture. Stefan could have easily been the stereotype of a nerd: hairy, on the heavier side, glasses, hibernates in his mother’s basement, etc. Luckily, his personality makes the movie more than enjoyable. Stefan isn’t too nerdy. He has a girlfriend and is fairly out-going. Best of all, Stefan has regular people problems. He lives processed order to processed order. He drinks way too much when he drinks but is never drunk on the job. He’s a Jets fan, which I’m sure only aggravates his social alcoholism, but through all of this, Stefan never loses focus on himself and his dreams.
The Dwarvenaut, unlike the terrible title, is put together in a way where the viewer is always engaged. Focusing mostly on the present, his life story is lightly sprinkled in throughout to keep the movie from falling into a basic cable, talking head biography. And at a brisk 87 minutes, the movie is able to tell enough of his story to make a complete movie while never boring the audience with unnecessary sequences of D&D gameplay or boardroom dealings.
Where the movie really kicks into gear is when Stefan waxes poetic about his path towards his life’s work. Supported by his loving parents, he eventually finds his passion was there all along: art. Stefan takes us all over his beloved New York City and finds artistic beauty everywhere. He sees painting and sculpting in the same way my fellow film critics see movies: as a joy, as something to be celebrated, as salvation, as something to keep you waking up in the morning.
The Dwarvenaut is the kind of documentary that infuses life into the subject, one that has multiple layers. On the surface, you see a simple story of fandom, but as you look closer, you see a man, left behind in one world only to be resurrected in another and living to the potential. But as you look at this under an electronic microscope, you find a celebration of an art form long underappreciated. An art form and a fandom that can be seen as a hobby but can be seen as so much more: one’s life, in a good way, a very good way.
4 out of 5
‘The Dwarvenaut’ is now available to rent on Amazon and will be released on DVD on Sept. 13th.