Documentary film: The Polgár Variant

by Frederic Friedel
6/24/2015 – Everyone has heard the myths and the rumours surrounding the Polgár sisters, but how many of us really know the true story of the family that yielded three chess super-talents? For over four years an Israeli film-maker collected archive material never seen before, and produced a documentary that is epic and historic, but also personal and intimate. Watch the latest trailer.

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The Polgár Variant

Documentary, 68 min, DVD, 2014, DVD,
Written and directed by Yossi Aviram
Produced by Ayelet Kait & Amir Harel, Lama Productions
Sponsored by The Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts, the Marc Rich Foundation,
The Second Authority for TV & Radio
Language: Hebrew, English and Hungarian with English subtitles

Synopsis: The extraordinary story of three Hungarian-Jewish sisters who were raised in Communist Budapest of the 1970s to be chess masters. The Polgar sisters did not choose to become the heroines of this story. It was their father, who, driven by his educational vision, determined their destiny before they were even born. László Polgár believed that “Geniuses are made, not born,” and he set out to prove it. The canvas he chose was his three daughters. The medium he chose was chess. No kindergarten, no school… Three girls, isolated from the normal world of kids, studied and practiced chess – with surprising and remarkable results.

The making of Polgár Variant

For over four years, an Israeli film-maker Yossi Aviram (left) collected archive material that has never been seen, including home movies, interviews with the family and coaches. With this he created a documentary which scans the incredible story of the Polgár family.

“I started playing chess at a relatively late age, in local tournaments in Israel,” Yossi says. “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. 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.”

Father László Polgár watching daughters Zsuzsa (Susan) and Judit during their training

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.

Judit, Sofi and Susan at home in their flat in Budapest

These materials enable us to make a film that is both epic and historic, and personal and intimate. 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.”

Trailer of The Polgár Variant

2:24 min trailer of the film

We have received a complimentary DVD of The Polgár Variant and are impressed by the quality of the material – which you can see in the trailer above. Contemporary footage is in impeccable HD, while historical material has been well processed to reach almost present-day quality. Here some screen grabs.

The Polgár Variant has been shown in many film festivals: New York, Washington, London, Berlin (in the presence of Judit), Jerusalem, Fipa Biaritz France, etc. There will be showing in San Francisco in a few weeks, and in Australia and Chicago later this year. The film will be shown on Israeli TV Channel 2 later this year. It was already bought and shown in Poland and Belgium TV. Contacts to major TV stations in France, Germany, etc. – contact Cara Saposnik, Ruth Diskin Films Festivals and Marketing. The Polgar Variant will be available on October 1st on DVD for home use only from the Ruthfilms website. You can also follow the team on this Facebook page.

Since 2001 Ruth Diskin Films has been a leader in world sales and marketing of quality independent films worldwide. As a boutique sales company, Ruth Diskin Films represents artistically excellent and compelling works that largely address human rights, Jewish content and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Films from the catalogue have been shown widely at international film festivals in addition to broadcasts on global outlets. Keeping things intimate, Ruth Diskin Films focuses on character-driven stories that address broad and diverse audiences.

As one of the highly acclaimed Israeli distributors, Ruth Diskin Films Ltd. works with organizations and institutions that integrate non-commercial, educational media into their programs. This includes colleges and universities, archives, art cinemas, libraries, museums, galleries, and symposiums.

Ruth Diskin Films Ltd. grants international marketing & distribution services awards to the Best Documentary Film at the Israeli Documentary Forum as well as to the Best Documentary Film of the DocAviv International Film Festival – Israel’s leading film industry events. Managing Director Ruth Diskin (picture right), offers her services as a consultant to many film organizations in Israel in addition to serving as a jury member at various prestigious film festivals worldwide.

With over 25 years of experience in marketing and distribution in the international arena, Ruth Diskin, along with her team ensure that films reach diverse and varied audiences across the globe.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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