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Opening eyes to blind chess players

Published Jul 30, 2013


THE African premiere of a documentary that focuses on the blind chess players of India screened in the closing week of the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) and drew much interest in this community.

Algorithms was shot over three years and follows Charudatta Jadhav, a cham- pion chess player from Mumbai, who now mentors younger players and is championing their cause to become world- class blind chess players.

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After the screening of the documentary, the director, cinematographer and editor, Ian McDonald, said he and his partner in making Algorithms (and the producer), Geetha J, followed Jadhav and the emerging young blind chess players Darpan Inani (totally blind), SaiKrishna ST (partially blind) and Anant Kumar Nayak (totally blind) for three years in their pursuit of success at various championship tournaments in India and other parts of the world.

“In the end we had about 250 hours of footage. When we were shooting it was observational style, we never really had an idea of where the film was going and who the key characters were, we only really knew this towards the end,” McDonald explains.

The film-maker says the shoot- ing process of the documentary was life-changing for him.

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“I wanted to get closer… I was fascinated with blindness from the outside and how being blind represented a different way of being in the world. In a sense I was taught something fundamental about existence.

“We see these players as blind, we hear from their families about how they became blind, but as you stay in the blind community the blind factor kind of fades away. The focus is on their character strengths.”

McDonald also shared an experience he had while filming the team during a championship tournament in Serbia.

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“After the matches they would have a post-mortem in their dark room. I would be like: ‘Hold on, can I open a curtain or put on a light?’, and they would say: ‘That’s your problem’, and suddenly I was the one with a disability, in my dependence on light,” he recalls.

What spurred the idea for this documentary was pure curiosity, McDonald explains.

“I came across a newspaper clipping about blind chess players and just out of curiosity we explored it further and discov- ered this emerging blind chess community.”

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McDonald said he and Geetha chose not to rush the filming process of Algorithms: “This notion of ‘director’ and ‘producer’ are the terms we give in the industry.

“I don’t see myself as the director; Geetha was there all the way. It was collaboration. This wasn’t just important for the language, but for empathy and trust of the blind community. They don’t easily trust the seeing community, so a lot of the time was building that trust with them.”

Commenting on the cinematography of Algorithms, Geetha said: “Ian is a totally intuitive cinematographer. He is able to bring a kind of imagery about chess and the world of the blind that we have never seen before.”

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