New documentary on the Polgar family

8/28/2012 – Chess fans are undoubtedly familiar with the statistics, the myths and the rumours surrounding the Polgár sisters, but how many of us really know the true story of the family? For four years, an Israeli film-maker has collected archive material never seen before, and produced a documentary for Israeli TV that is epic and historic, but also personal and intimate. Watch the trailer.

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New documentary on the Polgár family

For four years, an Israeli film-maker has collected archive material that has never been seen, including home movies, interviews with the family and coaches. With this he has created a documentary which scans the incredible 40 year story of the Polgár family. You can see a trailer of the documentary, which is in the advanced stages of editing, at the end of this report.


The three sisters, Zsuzsa, Sofia and Judit, in Budapest, 1985

In the summer of 1973, a father and his daughter walked into a chess club in Budapest. The place was full with heavy cigarette smoke, crowded with elderly men, who used to spend long afternoons there, playing chess. The girl was four years old, and her father brought a pillow with him so she could reach the table. Those old chess foxes couldn't believe that László Polgár wanted them to play against his daughter. Only after some of them were beaten by baby Zsuzsa did they realize that they are witnessing the birth of a new chess legend.


Zsuzsa Polgar at the age of five, when she won the Budapest
Girls Under 11, with a score of 10 out of 10!

40 years have gone by since that summer, since László Polgár decided to conduct one of the most amazing experiments in the history of the sport or, if you will, in the history of human education. Judit Polgár is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in the history of chess, Susan was the women’s world champion and Sofia is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster. In terms of their achievements there can be no doubt that László Polgár’s experiment was a huge success.

“We were very surprised that a comprehensive documentary about this incredible story had not yet been made,” said Amir Harel, producer of Lama Productions. Harel is not a big chess fan, yet he instantly understood that the story of the Polgárs is much more than just a story about chess. “It touches upon many aspects of life: the educational experiment, the underlying ideology, the heroic fight against the Communist regime, issues pertaining to the equality of the sexes, family relationships, and even love stories. Obviously the film attempts to decipher the mysterious nature of the father, László Polgár.”


With Bobby Fischer at the family summer house

Lama Productions is an Israeli production company which generally produces feature films. Their film “Paradise Now” was nominated for an Oscar, and “Jellyfish” won the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. “In general, movies about chess are few and far between”, says Harel. “Bobby Fischer, of course, aroused quite a bit of interest, and Kasparov, obviously. I think the story of the Polgárs is no less exciting than the stories of these two men.”


Friendly game which the reclusive American chess genius

“I started playing chess at a relatively late age, in local tournaments in Israel,” says Yossi Aviram, the film’s director. “I was unfamiliar with the story of the Polgár sisters. But on the wall of one of the chess clubs, next to pictures of Kasparov, Botvinnik and others, all very stern looking men, I came across a black and white photo of the sisters, taken at the 1988 chess Olympiad in Saloniki. I instantly knew there must be an interesting story behind it.


At the in Budapest house… illustrating the daily chess routine

Three years later, in one of the dusty video cassettes on the shelf of László Polgár, I found movies he shot at that Olympiad. Shortly before he had bought his first video camera. Gradually we began piecing together the mosaic that will recount the epic story of this family.”

It took the film-makers four years to reach a virtually final version of the film. “During those four years we interviewed people, we contacted every possible archive, we translated dozens of hours of material in Hungarian, we collected hundreds of pictures, and we obtained from László Polgár and Gusztav Font, Judit Polgár’s husband, home movies that they shot themselves. These materials enable us to make a film that is both epic and historic, and personal and intimate.”


Sofi and Zsuzsa: "It was chess from morning to the night"

The film includes interviews with family members, Hungarian journalists, chess players and chess coaches that accompanied the sisters throughout the years. “I’m not sure their childhood was much fun” says Lev Psakhis, former USSR champion and a man who knew the sisters up close and personal. “It was fun!” he corrects himself, “It was fun because they were together! They were together…” he says in one of the touching moments in the film.


Playing ping pong at in Budapest, 1985

“It obviously wasn’t easy getting to the sisters, obtaining their consent and gaining their trust. Many people had contacted them to make films. “I guess no one was enough of a nuisance,” says Yossi Aviram with a smile. “Years of abuse by the authorities and media made the family suspicious. What helped me was my love of chess and the fact that I had fallen in love with this family. Films must be made out of love, otherwise, in this long process you lose patience very quickly.”


The entire Polgar family: Susan and Judit (standing), Sofia, mother Klara,
father László and a gleeful baby Oliver

Production of the film is supported by the Israel Film Fund and will be broadcast on Israeli TV. The film-makers are currently in negotiations with TV stations worldwide. “The film can be ready within weeks”, says Amir Harel, the producer. “But sadly, the recession has hit TV stations too, and that makes it hard for them to invest in numerous films each year. We still haven’t raised the required budget to complete the film – for payment for the rights to use archives, music and so forth. We are trying our luck in the world of chess as well.” Companies or individuals who would like to help launch the film can contact Lama Productions at Razyosi@hotmail.com or amir@lamafilms.com.

Trailer of the Lama Film documentary on the Polgars

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