Belafonte and Bobby Fischer at Sundance

Harry Belafonte at the Sundance Channel HQ with his daughter, Gina Belafonte

Still not much deal news, but the cinema-going aspect of Sundance is in full swing. A 9:30 a.m. screening of the Harry Belafonte documentary SING YOUR SONG was filled with early-rising fest go-ers and volunteers who were inordinately friendly (“Hello!” “Welcome!”) considering the hour. Things get started later here: the Starbucks crush (i.e., when they run out of spinach-feta breakfast wraps) is around eleven.

Even more packed was the screening of another documentary, Liz Garbus’ BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD, which has been receiving strong buzz, and was raved about by L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan. At the 11:30 premiere, we had the good fortune to find a free seat next to an authority of sorts: Evan Edgar, former 8th grade chess champ at Concord Elementary School in Northern California. Edgar was 11 when Fischer played Boris Spassky in the 1972 world championship of chess (a big focus of the film), and said that he and his brothers would organize chess tournaments around Fisher’s moves, which were published in the papers every day. When asked for chess advice for someone who has a fear of chess boards, but was once fairly proficient at checkers, Edgar said: “Keep your pawn structure.” He then added: “We’re all pawns in the game of life.” We wondered if this was a cheesy, oft-repeated mantra amongst chess players, and guessed it probably was.

As for the film, it lives up to the buzz, and does a lovely job of presenting Fischer as a troubled and isolated young man whose genius was as much a part of his chessmanship as his later decline into psychosis. Life photographer Harry Benson, who took gorgeous black and white photographs of Fischer in the early 1970’s (including one sans coulettes), and who was one of the few people whom Fischer let into his life, was on hand, and talked lovingly about Fischer’s softer side: “Bobby loved animals, dogs, horses. When we were in Iceland, we would walk at night, and one horse would always come over and kiss him. He would do this over and over, every night. He wouldn’t kiss anyone else.”

For more of Nicole’s dispatches at the Sundance Film Festival see her
blog on
The Daily Beast.