Chess film in Ipswich

A new film by Andrew Bujalski called “Computer Chess” is being shown at the Ipswich Film Theatre in the Corn Exchange on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.   There’s a two-minute trailer that you can watch.   The film’s own website can be seen here.

The advertising spiel says, “In the early ’80s a group of computer programmers gather in a hotel with the aim of winning a competition to design a programme that will beat a human at chess.   From a broadly comic beginning the film shifts imperceptibly into a genuinely profound, and surprisingly moving, philosophical musing on the relationship between man and machine.   Thoughtful, engaging, funny, this is a genuine surprise.”

The film won a $20,000 award at the Sundance Film Festival, held in Utah, USA in January 2013.

Ted Matthewson says he’s going to see it on Wednesday or Thursday, so we look forward to hearing about it.

4 thoughts on “Chess film in Ipswich
  1. I saw the film this evening at the IFT.

    It's a quirky offering with perhaps more for film buffs than chess or computer chess aficionados. That said it does the chess and programming bits very well – there are no obvious goofs, no board-set-up-wrong as far as I could spot. It's at its best with the rivalries between programming teams and in superbly evoking the early 1980s.

    There are echoes of David Levy's famous bets (first of which expired in 1978) without reference though oddly I noted a mention in the copious closing credits (it's a very common name of course). The chess talk isn't as good as the programming dialogue; transposition tables, hash algorithms, selective search – all were techniques used in the early days before custom chips were developed – as is the rivalry between the 'brute force' and positional approaches (oddly, they called it 'brute strength').

    Back in 1989 I was at the 1st Computer Olympiad (with a non-working bridge program..) a convention that looked a lot like the one in the film. I was surprised then that the chess programmers were seldom even club standard so the lack of chess discussion is quite realistic. The same goes for the games and game-positions which have the oddly stilted look of early computer play. (Chess advisor was a chess programmer, Peter Kappler, author of private engine, Grok.)

    The film follows a number of discursions, some of which are amusing, some of which are self-referential if you are supposed to think that way, but not all of which are successful plot-wise or film-wise. Very much a curio – it has received good reviews (tail-end of BBC's Film 2013 because of a limited release, four stars in the Guardian) as well as the Sundance award.

  2. OK Bob, as you asked…

    I quite liked it. The idea of a load of geeks stuck in a hotel for a weekend playing with their chess computers has its parallels with ordinary weekend congresses, so I could relate to the format. The film develops the characters quite well as we move through the weekend with oddball events and a few "Twin-Peaks" moments thrown in. The oddest one is saved for the end. The computers were good – it looks like they had pressed several museum pieces back into service for the film. The black and white photography worked well and the early eighties hair styles were spot on. It didn't deliver on its promise of insightful exploration on the future of artificial intelligence, but I was kept entertained all the way through.

    Ted Matthewson

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