A crackling documentary: Kasparov and the Machine

by ChessBase
9/13/2003 – The intersection of chess and computers -- hardly a subject for a full-length movie documentary. Some people were wondering if award-winning director Vikram Jayanti was trying to commit career suicide by taking on this project ("Is he getting his funding from Nytol?"). But now the film has premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to enthusiastic reviews.

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Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine

An Odeon Films release (in Canada) of an Alliance Atlantis and National Film Board of Canada production of a World Documentary Fund film. Produced by Hal Vogel. Executive producers, Andre Singer, Andy Thomson, Nick Fraser, Paul Trijbits, Tom Perlmutter, Eric Michel. Directed by Vikram Jayanti.

With: Garry Kasparov, Frederic Friedel, Joel Benjamin, Murray Campbell, Feng Hsuing-Tsu, John Searle, Steven Levy, Owen Williams, Jeff Kisselhof.

The Washington Times

The Toronto International Film Festival, which started on September 4th, is reeling out 336 films from 55 countries with a bevy of Hollywood and world stars to usher them in. From the documentary "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine," about the famous chess player, to the closing gala Australian fantasy flick "Danny Deckchair," about a man who flies with helium balloons attached to his deck chair, the festival has cinephiles lining up for blocks to enter theaters or try to spot celebrities.

Oscar-winning documentary filmer Vikram Jayanti

The Toronto International Film Festival

There is a conspiratorial tone to Vikram Jayanti’s probing new film, with its tracking shots that stalk through dark corridors, hushed narration and seditious score. And there is Kasparov, still fiercely bitter about the outcome as he “reconstructs the scene of the crime,” his second match against Deep Blue. His first encounter with the supercomputer had taken place in 1996, a year earlier. This was an important, symbolic event in which Kasparov participated with a spirit of camaraderie, experimentation and amused self-confidence. It was, he admitted, a tough match, but Kasparov won. “Machines are stupid by nature,” the grandmaster shrugged.

Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine offers an incisive overview of the most notorious chess match ever played, an ultimately unfriendly contest that devolved into psychological warfare, paranoia, accusations and defences. “I’m a human being. When I see something that is well beyond my understanding, I’m afraid,” said a dispirited Kasparov.

And Deep Blue? IBM’s stock rose fifteen per cent the day following the match. – Sean Farnel

Talking with Garry Kasparov at a computer fair in Munich

Sheffield International Documentary Festival press release

The 10th Sheffield International Documentary Festival opens with the UK premiere of Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine on the 13th October 2003. The latest work from acclaimed director Vikram Jayanti, the film is the first release from the World Documentary Fund, dedicated to the production of feature length documentaries. The fund is a co-production between BBC, the UK Film Council and the National Film Board of Canada.

The film is an investigation in to Garry Kasparov’s infamous 1997 chess match against IBM’s Deep Blue. Telling a David versus Goliath story of psychological warfare, personal pride, and corporate ambition, it provides a compelling cinematic journey into the mind of the legendary chess champion as he battles with IBM’s powerful creation.

Vikram Jayanti, the man also behind the highly praised When We Were Kings and The Man Who Bought Mustique, will accompany his new film to this year’s festival and will be the subject of a masterclass. During this special event the multi-awarding winning film maker will talk about his experience of making his latest documentary, how he gets access to his subjects and what happens when things go wrong.

Vikram Jayanti Films

The Globe and Mail: Looking for the next Bowling for Columbine?

This year, the brainiac characters are found in Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine, Vikram Jayanti's slick and surprisingly suspenseful investigation of the defeat of Garry Kasparov, regarded as the world's greatest chess player, by the IBM-designed computer Deep Blue in 1997. A penetrating character study of Kasparov, a man whose defeated spirit seems always near the surface, the film also weaves together archival footage, recent interviews with computer scientists, journalists and chess experts, scenes from a 1920s silent film, The Chess Player, and shots of an eerie recreation of a chess-playing automaton called The Turk, originally built in the 18th century.

Aint-it-cool-news review

The intersection of chess and computers -- it doesn't get much more cerebral that that. These are hardly subjects that lend themselves to cinematic examination. Throw in the fact that this is a documentary, and you might be wondering if Jayanti was trying to commit career suicide by taking on this project. Is he getting his funding from Nytol? Actually I think his decision to tackle the challenging subject matter is more like a manager who takes over a last pace team after he has already won the World Series.

Well, whatever the reason he took on the project, the reason this movie is such a success is that it is exactly contrary to your expectations. Before the show, Jayanti said (and I am paraphrasing), "Welcome chess geeks, computer scientists, and mathematicians. I must warn you that I did my best to take every bit of chess out of this movie." That about sums it up. Instead this movie is about people -- chess is just the backdrop, and machines are just the foil.

While the story told by the director is compelling, the greatest asset of the film is that it is shot more like a feature than a documentary. The director makes excellent use of lighting -- when is the last time you saw that in a documentary? The camera is always in motion. Even talking heads don't remain centered in the frame -- if the camera isn't wheeling around for a 360 degree shot, it is running through focus, or straining to keep the speaker in frame. Some of the narrative recounting the "conspiracy" is whispered, and the score is right out of Unsolved Mysteries. At times these tricks almost seem to go over the top, but they never quite do, instead always leaving you on edge and involved in the unfolding story.

Variety review by Robert Koehler

Vikram Jayanti's crackling "Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine" plays on the psychology and paranoia of grandmaster chess in chronicling the 1997 match between Russian world champ Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer. Though it never disguises its sympathies for Kasparov and contempt for a powerful corporation's machinations, docu is finally a speculation on the limits of the human mind and how truth can never be fully known.

Jayanti's film cleverly -- if controversially -- lays out a scenario that has less to do with the advance of computer science and more to do with a nasty mix of bruised egos and corporate arrogance run amok. Pacing of each game builds to an intense pulse as Kasparov first wins, and then is so soundly defeated in game two that it seems to weaken him psychologically. As Kasparov views it, Deep Blue's winning moves transcended a machine's limits, raising the specter of human intervention.

Though no proof of the charges is uncovered (and Benjamin, Campbell and Feng are mum on the subject), others, such as reporter Jeff Kisselhof, suggest IBM wanted to defeat Kasparov at all costs as means to prove company's computer supremacy. Pic notes more than once that IBM stock shot up 15% immediately after Kasparov retired from the match.

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