Computer Chess

Computer Chess (2013)

Opened: 07/17/2013 Limited

Film Forum/NYC07/17/2013 - 08/20/201335 days
Kendall Square...07/26/2013 - 08/08/201314 days
The Nuart08/02/2013 - 08/08/20137 days
Harkins Theate...08/02/2013 - 08/08/20137 days
Music Box Thea...09/27/2013 - 10/03/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Comedy

Rated: Unrated


Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, COMPUTER CHESS transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future.

Director's Statement

"What on Earth made me think that it was a good idea to make an existential comedy about the oddball geniuses who thought it important that a machine learn to defeat its masters at, of all things, chess? Perhaps it was already an existential comedy before I got there?

For a decade now I've been making features on beautiful, outdated 16mm film, and people have asked constantly, 'Why don't you just shoot on video?' Right, I wondered, why don't I? Why don't I dig up a beautiful, really outdated old video camera and start dreaming in a language of images that time has passed by entirely? Computer Chess was a long, fondly held fantasy project for me and certainly the most purely intuitive thing I've ever undertaken.

From time to time over the years, when I would sometimes despair of trying to come up with a 'mass appeal' project to pay my bills, I would escape off to a fantasy vision of this weird-looking, weirdfeeling, weird topic project and a smile would cross my face. In retrospect it feels like my subconscious was putting the whole thing together, very slowly and in complete seclusion (as if fearing terrible reprisal should the conscious mind ever find out about it).

The mysteries of the mind of course also form the backbone of our story. As a species we're learning more and more about how our brains work, but it's difficult to imagine that we'll ever feel fully enlightened about our own processes--as you may know from your own adolescent and/or pot-smoking experiences, when the mind starts to examine itself too intently, things get really...confusing. How bold it seems of us to try to build an 'artificial intelligence' without anyone quite able to satisfactorily explain what 'natural' intelligence is!

It's easy (and, I'll admit, fun) to laugh at the big, igloo-sized computers of 30+ years ago. Of course today's iPhone has plenty more processing power than the mighty PDP-11 our characters are seen struggling to push across a room. And in the 21st century, plenty of computer programmers have nice haircuts and go to the gym and drive cool cars. But the 'nerds' of yesteryear, certainly those at the vanguard of AI were, I believe, a different breed. I think of these early programmers almost as a sect of monks, absorbed and dedicated utterly to their mission, to a degree that the rest of the world must have seemed like so much noise and distraction to them.

In our current Oprah-fied culture where we so value 'well-roundedness,' something seems almost frightening about that kind of antisocial focus. I, of course, can't help but admire it. I have no idea if building artificial intelligence is a noble goal or not, but after spending this much time trying to push my imagination into these programmers' world, I've come to love the guys (and the very rare, in those days, women) who saw this mountain and insisted on climbing it.

It's at least as noble as moviemaking, anyhow..."