My second day at Full Frame, the third day of the actual Film Festival, started off much better than the first. When I showed up for my first feature documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World, on Saturday morning, it had already opened for seating so there was no need to worry about being stuck in line and being forced to listen to 24-year-old Duplin County Scorseses discuss the weekend's selections so far.
Bobby Fischer has always fascinated me. A child prodigy that started playing chess at six years of age and was already beating grown men one year later, he picked up the game while being left home alone by his activist single mother. At 14, already widely considered a chess legend, Bobby toured the country playing anywhere from 40 to 80 games simultaneously for $5 a board. His World Championship matches against Russian Boris Spassky were given the top spot on the nightly news over Watergate.
Liz Garbus' film helps to fill in some of the puzzle pieces of Fischer's troubled life. After beating Spassky for the Championship, Fischer became even more withdrawn from friends and family. He found religion in a fundamentalist Christian church, only to lash out at them when one of their doomsday predictions failed to come true. He became a recluse, losing his Championship by forfeit when he refused to defend it, and only coming out of retirement in 1992 for a rematch against Spassky in war-torn Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, Yugoslavia was embargoed at that time and Fischer knew it. As a result he spent the rest of his life as a fugitive outside the United States.
The final scenes of Bobby Fischer Against the World capture the images and sounds of a man who is suffering from several undiagnosed mental conditions. One of these scenes is the famous radio address from the Phillipines on 9/11 celebrating the terrorist attack. Bobby Fischer is now a man whom you can no longer invite to dinner because at some point he will recite a diatribe on the evil of the Jews, despite being Jewish himself. At the end of his life Bobby was given refuge by the Icelandic government, a move that the Icelandic people who met him soon regretted.
While Liz Garbus broke onto the documentary scene in 1998 with The Farm: Angolo, USA, Bobby Fischer may well be her defining moment as a filmmaker.