Documentary English Film Review

Algorithms

Algorithms follows three players, all in their teens, Darpan, Sai and Anant over 2 World Championships and the mentor of blind chess in India, Charu, as he seeks to push the game to more blind players, to blind schools and international recognition.

Director Ian McDonald kept a small newspaper cutting about the subject in his wallet for 2 years, before his producer Geetha J actually pushed him into beginning work on it. Before that, he had not known that blind people played chess, and in fact, even other chess players knew very little about this. Once filming began, Ian and Geetha shot it over over 3 years, from 2009 to 2011, and then edited the material over  further 15 months.

According to Charu, “4 moves in, and we are all blind”. In this sense, chess is one game, that the blind can not only play, but that they can compete with the sighted equally. This gives them immense confidence in their lives as well. Because 4 moves in and we are all blind, in life, too. As Ian learns about the meaning of sight and loss of sight, about how we see or don’t see, about touch and the materiality of the world despite the digital age, his camera moves from a distant detached observation to more and more intimate and tactile positions, exploring textures and shapes, so that we almost feel that we too are visually challenged and are exploring through touch rather than sight.

The film, beautifully filmed in black and white, does not evoke pity or even sympathy, it does nothing to make us identify with the characters, but only to present them and their world. Only once does Charu say in a matter-of-fact way, that when he hears the sea, he misses seeing it, the beauty of nature. The parents of the children too, are like any other parents, competitive for their kids, wanting the best for them, and worried about their future. For all of them, it was the first time that they spoke to someone about their children’s blindness and how it happened, and these are powerful moments in the film, handled with great dignity and sensitivity.

What the film also does is convey the sheer joy of playing, of the game itself, and the possibility of sport and game taking us beyond the limitations of our daily lives. The chess board becomes a stage for action filled drama, through the use of music and a sharp edit.

The director, Ian McDonald’s has an academic training in sociology and specialisation  in sociological field-work on sport and physical culture. Most of his earlier films too have been related to sport, including a film of kalarippayattu and 2 films on gay football and homophobia. His unique position as a documentary practitioner and teacher, and a sociologist imbues Algorithms with a deep understanding of the game and what it means to the people he is following in the film.

Score75%

English, Documentary, Black & White

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