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Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ian McDonald


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Algorithms is a feature documentary on the little known but thriving community of blind chess in India. Shot over three years it focuses on three youths and their mentor and coach, who is also blind. The film starts with the national senior blind chess championship in Mumbai in January 2009, and then interweaves visits to the homes of the three players in different parts of India, with blind chess tournaments in India, and world blind chess championships in Sweden, Serbia and Greece, before ending with a national junior blind chess championship in Mumbai in January 2012. In highlighting the significance of chess for blind and visually impaired people, especially in India, Algorithms points to an elective affinity between the experience of blindness and the tactile and cognitive game of chess. This sociological insights precipitates a number of critical reflections about the nature and limitations of sight (provoked by considerations on the differences between foresight and eyesight), on the forgotten significance of touch, and of the materiality of our social existence in an era dominated the visual and the virtual. Thus an initial visual anthropological exploration of blindness (as other) becomes a sociological critique of our ‘ocular-centric’ society, summed up in the by-line of the film, “four moves in, we are all blind”. Algorithms is visualized in high contrast black and white. This aesthetic choice is not only designed to foreground processes of seeing but also to create an immersive rather than a detached voyeuristic experience for the viewer. It is a visual aesthetic that when combined with other formal choices such as the sparing use of music (itself a novel use of the South Indian classical music tradition known as Carnatic) and the absence of voice-over, allows space for the viewer to ‘feel’ their way around the world of blind chess. As such, Algorithms constitutes a critique of the dominance of narrative and the privileging of issues in contemporary mainstream documentary.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McDonald I

Publication type: Digital or Visual Media

Publication status: Published

Year: 2012

Source Publication Date: First screening: November 2012

Series Editor(s): Produced by Geetha J

Contents: Algorithms is a feature documentary film about young blind chess players from India.

Publisher: AkamPuram

Place Published: India

Type: DVD and USB portfolio

Format: 96 mins/HDV/ B&W/English, Hindi, Tamil, Odiya (with English subtitles)

Credits: Filmed, directed and edited by Ian McDonald


Notes: Algorithms has been screened at film festivals around the world. It won the Audience Award at the Royal Anthropological Institute's International Festival of Ethnographic Films (Edinburgh, June 2013) and received a Special Mention in the Best Documentary Category at the Durban International Film Festival (South Africa July 2013).