Magdalena Pieta: Planet Kirsan

I have never heard about Kalmykia before. Have you? I checked it: An autonomous republic it is, member of the SNG, close friends to Russia with ONE leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who himself was a chess champion and wants to turn his country into a country for chess players, masters of the game. Around 300.000 inhabitants, and ” a nearly empty desert the size of Scotland” (according to an article in New Yorker)

Demographic and political Information is not the subject of Magdalena Pieta’s film. She goes mostly for the chess and the children. Politics is in the background shown through huge official ceremonies and parades, sometimes intercut with the chess games and preparations, that form the foreground of a film that is surprising and fascinating to watch. First of all because of the filmic qualities and the quite challenging structure of the film. It has no real classical narrative to go from, and yet there is a red thread that takes the viewer with and to a tournament for a couple of kids, who she follows and sometimes gets pretty close to. She catches dialogues, faces, emotions and she conveys the extreme competitive atmosphere. That is the hard reality for the kids. ”Only winning matters” as it is being said by one of the tough charismatic teachers of Alekhan and Amir. They win and they lose. They cry and they laugh. Intruding into this docu observation is a little girl wearing a hat as a chess brick. She is not noticed, she is visible for the viewer but not for the ones in the picture.

The sound of the film contributes to this fairy tale tone that is the aim of the director. Almost through the whole film you hear the wind of the steppes that surround the chess city, Elista is the name. Combined with the presence of the small girl and the excellent wordless close-ups of the kids, you sense the kind of fascination that has been the motivation for the director to go there. And the surrealistic feel she must have had being there. And, yes, the one responsible for the construction of this dreamerish situation, Kirsan himself is being interviewed. Or rather he talks, about chess. ”When everything else might change, chess remains”, he says with a smile. Charisma, he has.

Poland, 2010, 50 mins. (trailer9

Share your love
Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

Articles: 3866