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article imageReview: 'Wizard Mode' is an inspiring tale of an autistic pinball wizard Special

By Michael Thomas     May 6, 2016 in Entertainment
'Wizard Mode' is an inspiring and warm look into the life of Canada's best current pinball player — Robert Gagno, who also happens to be autistic.
Though pinball probably was at its biggest in the 70s and 80s, it still boasts a large following of fans and players and a busy competitive scene with tournaments like Pinburgh in Pittsburgh, Penn. Players from Canada, the United States, Sweden and elsewhere are constantly battling to make it into the top of the rankings. Enter Gagno, Canada's highest-ranked player.
The story of Wizard Mode is not just about Gagno's quest to be the best pinball player, though tournament footage certainly plays a role in the film. It's a beautiful portrait of Gagno and the difficulties he faces as an autistic person in his 20s.
The film has a lot of fun visually with the pinball/gaming theme, from the video-game-esque title cards introducing each member of the story (even pets) and their accompanying pinball rankings, if applicable. The soundtrack for the film is very oriented towards the synthesizer, in sticking with the gaming theme.
Pinball itself is not conducive to filming at length; one game could take literally hours, so thankfully the shots of players in action focus more on the human element, with quick shots showing the pinball hitting a multitude of targets and adding bonuses or draining (the term for when the ball goes out of play).
Gagno and his mother and father are the real soul of the movie, of course. His parents are whole-hearted supporters of his pinball passion and often accompany him to tournaments; they're also more than happy to help him as he tries to obtain a driver's license and find his first job.
When Gagno talks about how his autism affects his daily life, there's a lot one can learn. Several straight minutes of the film are about hugs — how much Gagno likes them, how he's learning how much hugging is appropriate, even how he's researching the psychological and physiological effects of hugs. His description of colours and how they correspond to his mood is nothing short of fascinating.
There are frustrations in both his pinball playing and personal life, but Gagno slowly manages to find his way through them, leading to a warm ending and a wonderful twist on a certain song by The Who.
The final screening of Wizard Mode at Toronto's Hot Docs International Film Festival will be on May 7. All of Digital Journal's 2016 festival coverage can be found here.
More about wizard mode, robert gagno, nathan drillot, jeff petry, pinball
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