Sundance 2011: Bobby Fischer Against the World and Page One

by John Lopez 

fischerdoc-main.jpgFischer. Photo courtesy of Harry Benson.
As the premiere venue for documentaries, Sundance boasts a selection of primo nonfiction films that make PBS programmers weep with envy. Any diehard wine-sipping liberatti could find himself in doc heaven, theater-hopping from topic to topic: mountaintop-removal coal mining in The Last Mountain; African electioneering in An African Election; and bare-knuckle Irish fistfighting in Knuckle. Then, there are those docs with the polished pizzazz and dramatic thrust of a feature film. This year, two of the snazziest docs at the festival were Liz Garbus’s epic chess-genius portrait, Bobby Fischer Against the World, and Andrew Rossi’s fly-on-the-newsroom-wall film, Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times.

You don’t have to know what a pawn sacrifice is to have heard of Bobby Fischer. The American chess genius remains in our culture’s memory years after his passing, and decades after he gave America one of its greatest Cold War moral victories. The legendary 1972 Chess World Championships in Reykjavik saw America’s rock-star chess player defeat the U.S.S.R.’s imperial chess program (embodied by the paragon of Soviet cool and control, Boris Spassky). Garbus’s documentary captures the full thrill of those games with a sense of larger-than-life drama that rivals Rocky IV. You half expect Fischer to start screaming “Adrian!” after Spassky concedes.

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