Bobby Fischer Lives on at Sundance Film Festival

By Travis Poppleton

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 26 2011 5:47 p.m. MST

Sign for World Chess Hall of Fame and pictures of Bobby Fischer from Harry Benson's exhibit on the former grandmaster at the Thomas Karnes McCarthey Gallery.

Travis Poppleton

PARK CITY — One day after the death of world-famous chess champion Bobby Fischer, Liz Garbus started piecing his story together.

“When Bobby Fischer died, I thought this was the most incredible story,” Garbus told the Deseret News inside a small art gallery in Park City. The American filmmaker was there to view never-before-displayed photographs of Bobby Fischer taken by the accomplished photographer and friend to Bobby, Harry Benson.

“I was kind of shocked that no one had examined his life in a full way,” Garbus said. “But I realized that many people close to Bobby didn’t really feel comfortable talking about him until after he’d passed away because Bobby was so private.”

Her film, “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” which premiered recently at the Sundance Film Festival, explores the chess legend’s obsession with privacy. Ironically, the photographs at the art gallery were very candid pictures. One showed a melancholy Fischer on a park bench at night, another of him sleeping in a hotel room and another a back shot of him standing nude in the shower.

When asked how he gained so much access to such a private man, Benson said, "because he trusted me."

“I knew nothing about chess, so we never talked about that," he said. "And he knew when people talked to him about chess, they were idiots.”

Benson went on to explain that his job as a journalistic photographer was a 24-hour responsibility. When other reporters and photographers would go back to the bar for a drink, he would follow Fischer.

Garbus contacted Benson after seeing his pictures from the famous Fischer/Spassky match of 1972 that he’d taken for Life magazine. Benson is a frequent source in the film, and his photographs are used throughout.

Also walking around the gallery were four chess grandmasters, promoting the opening of the World Chess Museum in St. Louis. Jennifer Shahade, two-time U.S. Champion, discussed the photographs, the film and the coming museum over a friendly match.

“The film really depicts how engrossing and moving chess is,” Shahade said, while removing a rook from the board. “A lot of people, after watching the film are going to be inspired to get better at chess or even learn it for the first time.”

It’s possible that the “learn it for the first time" was a jab at her opponent's quick defeat, but if so, it was offered playfully. Shahade spent a few more minutes with me offering tips and suggestions for those lucky enough to cross pawns with another grandmaster.

The gallery will be leaving Utah this week, and will possibly show up in New York this summer in conjunction with the film’s release on HBO. Ultimately, many are hoping the photographs find a home at the St. Louis museum.

The film itself is one of the best at the festival. It's not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 due to brief strong language.

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