Saturday, December 29, 2007

Documentary Portraits of Chess Professionals

It is common to see in-depth video portraits of sports stars and other celebrities, but only recently have I begun to notice similar quality productions about noted chess players. There was an interesting five-part Indian TV documentary about World Champion Viswanathan Anand recently featured at the ChessBase website. And today I watched the artistic 43-minute documentary "Chess Me Out" (in Flash, or view the Quicktime version) by Davide Fasolo featuring interviews with over a dozen chess professionals, including Lev Aronian, Anatoly Karpov, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Rusudan Goletiani, Elisabeth Paehtz, and Alex Wohl. Both are worth seeing and offer some insight into the life of the professional player.

The Anand film is a typical surface portrait of a "sports star," as befits India's latest national hero. He comes across as a very affable fellow and there are some amusing stories, including one where Anand relates a conversation he had with an older stranger on a train who asked him what he did for a living. When Anand told him he played chess, the man was at first incredulous, then tried to convince him that he should really consider a much more stable profession. "After all," he said, "it's not like you are Vishy Anand!"

Fasolo's film is more meditative than the Anand piece and tries to achieve more depth and more aesthetic engagement. It is in both English and Italian (with English subtitles), and mixes black and white and color footage. It opens and closes with a Borges poem about chess and in between mostly shows the talking heads of players reflecting on various topics, from how they learned the game (most from their fathers) to how they have all suffered from their losses. There are some nice moments, including a musical interlude which shows scenes from the Olympiad, amusing footage of Ivanchuk pulling at his bushy eyebrows throughout a game, and some discussion of women and chess. I would have liked to see more reflection on what it is like to be a professional player, but I predict we will see a film along those lines in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, Fasolo's effort is very much worth seeing, and you can download a high-quality MP4 version from the his website. (Hat tip to Alexandra Kosteniuk).


katar said...

Thx for pointing us (your billions of loyal readers) to the Fasolo documentary. It is very well done. Rusa Goletiani (sp?) is you know, hilarious you know?

Michael Goeller said...

Yes, the film really gives you insight into these chess personalities... I have sometimes thought of making a chess documentary myself (I made a short film for my work, for instance), and Fasolo's is pretty close to what I envisioned, so it's a real pleasure to see.