In the tiny ex-Soviet state of Kalmykia, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has decreed chess to be the root of all things and has made it a compulsory subject in schools. A surreally disturbing picture of tin-pot authority in action.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2011
“Dictators often impose their passions on their people, but few do so as single-mindedly as Kalmykia’s first and only president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. A former teenage chess champion in this small [pop. 300,000] ex-Soviet state (and Europe’s only Buddhist region), Kirsan considers the game to be the root to all society and the key to, uh, everything. He therefore has decreed chess a compulsory subject for every school child and established a chess academy for the brightest players in the land. Magdalena Pięta’s beautifully brooding film takes us into the heart of the creepy Chess City. It springs up gleaming and glossy from Kalmykia’s barren landscape and is full of chess-inspired art works and dutiful children. Amongst them is Alekhan, who spends his days studying with his brother under the withering gaze of a coach, whilst dreaming of moving to Grozny. An elliptical, thought-provoking look at an authoritarian state.” —SheffieldDoc/Fest.
Warning: contains elaborate chess-themed state pageantry celebrating 400 years of the Russian Empire.