This quest to find a former model for a computer game is an absolute joy
No one is seeking out Carmen Sandiego because we’re all aware she’s a fictional creation from a late ‘80s computer game. But Mavis Beacon, the name associated with a typing tutor game of the same era, seems more like a real person. Filmmaker Jazmin Jones and friend/associate producer Olivia McKayla Ross go on a sort of spiritual quest to find Mavis — or rather the woman who modeled for the software company — in Seeking Mavis Beacon. This fun nonfiction work premiered as part of the NEXT program at this year’s Sundance Film Fest.
Colorful and kinetic, the film touches on themes of media representation and inclusion (or lack thereof) in tech, all while playing with storytelling structure. Dreamlike editing weaves elements of their search for Renee L’Esperance along with scenes of the two filmmakers goofing off in their vibrant office and elsewhere, with interviews interspersed. There’s an overall sense of play to Seeking Mavis Beacon, which is fitting since, at least on the surface level, it’s about a computer game.
We learn the myth behind the discovery of Mavis (as well as the importance of myth) and hear from the male creators of the game, and later the erstwhile fiancee who actually ran into L’Esperance in a department store and found her to be a stunning possibility for a model. From the visionary open to the anti-conclusion, Seeking Mavis Beacon entrances and informs the viewer. As much as the work is a search for a woman who doesn’t want to be found, the film centers and celebrates the friendship between Jones and Ross. We see their relationship evolve through the years of filming, growing closer despite the miles between them.
Seeking Mavis Beacon is an energetic exploration, a warm hug of a film as these two welcome us into their space. Jones is a fresh voice in nonfiction film making and I’m excited to see what she does next.