Chess Gets Top Billing at Sundance

It sounds like the premise of a bad, low-budget comedy. But it is in fact part of the reality of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a promotional gimmick to warm crowds to the January 21st premiere and subsequent screenings of the LA made documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World.

A quartet of former chess champions are being flown in by the St. Louis based World Chess Hall of Fame to offer festival goers the highly unusual opportunity of a quick weekend pick-up match in between screenings. Participating are grand masters Alexander Shabalov and Joel Benjamin; women’s international master Iryna Zenyuk; and two-time American women’s champion Jennifer Shahade.

Liz Garbus’ world premiering doc about the 1972 contest in Reyjavik, Iceland between Fischer and Russian champ Boris Spassky gets a nice advance write-up today in the Park Record. The LA based Garbus, Oscar nominated in 1998 for The Farm: Angola, says the chess diagramming was her most challenging project yet.

“I’ve made many documentaries before from tough places such as America’s Death Row, but I didn’t expect the difficulties I ran into telling the life of an American chess master,” she said. “While I knew there was going to be a storytelling challenge, I didn’t expect getting people to open up to me or obtaining access to information to be as difficult as it was.”

Garbus adds it was next to impossible to locate surviving TV footage of the historic 1972 chess competition.