Chessboxing, the sport—-WTF? Chessboxing, the Movie—-Worth Seeing

Chessboxing, as a sport, is one of those WTF topics. Throw two sweaty and bloodied boxers into a ring for alternating rounds of chess and boxing—intellect and brawn equally challenged—and you have a “what in tarnation” moment. Make a documentary movie about this bizarre sport and you’ve got a film worth seeing, if only for curiosity value.

Chessboxing might make you laugh. Chessboxing: A King's Discipline, the movie documentary, will make you think.

Chessboxing might make you laugh. Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline, the movie documentary, will make you think.

My youngest daughter’s first reaction to Chessboxing was, “What the F—!”. My mother would have said, “Sweet mother of pearl,” and her mother would have exclaimed “What in tarnation?” My first thought was “Crikey”, and I’m not even from Australia. Austin Powers would have said, “What the deuce?”

“Chessboxing initially tends to make people laugh, so it’s often very quickly dismissed as a novelty or a joke,” said director David Bitton, the filmmaker behind Chessboxing—The King’s Discipline, in a Films and Books interview.

Chessboxing, as a sport, is one of those WTF topics. Throw two sweaty and bloodied boxers into a ring for alternating rounds of chess and boxing—intellect and brawn equally challenged—and you have a “what in tarnation” moment. Make a documentary movie about this bizarre sport and you’ve got a film worth seeing, if only for curiosity value.  A straw poll around our office brought thumbs up on the film concept with accompanying grins or chuckles—while the sport itself drew some rather un-quotable expletives.

View the Trailer:

“Watching the fighters struggle to not make an error on the chess board when they’re sweating and bleeding and their bodies are full of adrenaline— it’s riveting to watch,” said David Bitton, explaining the allure of the sport to its growing base of fans. “I think the film will particularly speak to people who do not see themselves fitting into the boxes society demand we fit into.”

I doubt my daughter, son, mother,  or colleagues will become Chessboxing fans, despite Mr. Bitton’s intriguing description. Chessboxing is unlikely to become an Olympic sport, and it will always likely shock, delight, or disgust. Yet a documentary about the zany sport of Chessboxing is a winning proposition. We’re all fascinated with the weird, wonderful and new.

Chessboxing—The King’s Discipline

David Bitton’s ambitious documentary, covering the rising sport of Chessboxing is sure to win over the curious. The delight of a new discovery, the shock of a bizarre combination of brute and brains, and the sheer at-first-glance silliness of the sport will make this hard to resist for most viewers. Because Chessboxing is so unique and culturally odd, the documentary has the potential to become a cult hit.

In round 2 of Chessboxing, opponents duke it out, working up their adrenaline and sweat. In round 3, the real battle begins...

In round 2 of Chessboxing, opponents duke it out, working up their adrenaline and sweat. In round 3, the real battle begins…   Scene from Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline

Chessboxing itself, so far remains mostly a cultish or beer night oddity, with avid fans in Germany, London and California under independent national organizations. Organizers have big ambitions for Pay-Per-View TV events and Vegas-style productions. Chessboxing, based on a fictional sport from a popular graphic novel by Enki Bilal, has been profiled extensively in media, from the New York Times to the Space Channel, but inevitably with the spin of “and here’s something completely different.”

Chessboxing Documentary

Filmmaker David Bitton spent two years documenting the sporting events—and the people behind the unusual sport—and is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to fund post production for release.

When asked why he committed so much time to the unique subject he answered, “As a filmmaker and in life, I’m a big fan of things that seem absurd and laughable at first. They worm their way into my subconscious and refuse to leave.  Those are the things I know to pay attention to because they’re resonating on some deeper emotional level that is forcing me to rethink how I see the world.  Chessboxing is one of the most powerful examples of this I’ve come across…”

David Bitton committed two years to filming the unusual cultural phenomenon, and faced many road blocks along the way. “I was mugged at the start of production and had all my equipment stolen.” Later, in North London, he was almost stabbed.

Round 3 of the Chessboxing match, sweating, bloody and heart pumping, try to think of your next move in chess against an equally challenged opponent.

Round 3 of the Chessboxing match, sweating, bloody and heart pumping, try to think of your next move in chess against an equally challenged opponent. Scene from Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline.

Mr. Bitton not only documented the sport around the world, he covered the three chief movers and shakers in the Chessboxing world, friendly rivals who make the sport even more interesting. From Berlin, the birthplace of Chessboxing, to London, to Los Angeles, the film covers the “epic battles (that) have taken place between these men both inside and outside the ring, and we were there to capture them all,” according to the Chessboxing: A King’s Discipline Kickstarter page.

“The sport is still in its infancy and so we still don’t know how Chessboxing will look and how it will be in the future, or even if it will still be around,” said Mr. Bitton.  “That’s why I decided to center the film around the three people who are actively trying to shape that future and put forward the sport in the way that they think it should be.  Naturally, since their visions differ the relationship between them has gone through some dramatic ups and downs, but you’ll have to see the film to see what happens and to know how it all turns out!”

In addition to profiling the founders, and the “intellectual athletes” themselves, the film also features thought-provoking views from behavioral therapists, sociologists, and even art historians. Supporters and detractors all have their say.

Mr. Bitton is still raising funds on Kickstarter for the post production, with eight days to go on the campaign.

The Full Films and Books Interview

F&B: What is it about ChessBoxing that motivated you to dedicate time and money to producing a documentary on the “King’s Discipline”?

“As a filmmaker and in life, I’m a big fan of things that seem absurd and laughable at first, but then worm their way into my subconscious and refuse to leave.  Those are the things I know to pay attention to because they’re resonating on some deeper emotional level that is forcing me to rethink how I see the world.  Chessboxing is one of the most powerful examples of this I’ve come across – even the name alone gets the imagination going!”

In a scene from the forthcoming documentary, Chessboxing: A King's Discipline, audiences get a view to the gruelling training involved in this challenging sport.

In a scene from the forthcoming documentary, Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline, audiences get a view into the gruelling training involved in this challenging sport.

F&B: Are you a fan of Chessboxing, outside of the film?

“I would say so, for sure.  I’ve filmed about ten or eleven events over the course of making the doc, and I was really sold on the sport from the first one.  Watching the fighters struggle to not make an error on the board when they’re sweating and bleeding and their bodies are full of adrenaline – it’s riveting to watch.  It also makes for unpredictable chess games.  One of the most exciting things is when one of the fighters knows he’s about to lose on the chess and it becomes do or die in the next boxing round.”

F&B: Who do you believe are you main audiences for this film?

“Because chess and boxing are both so universally known around the globe, I think the film will appeal to a range of people who are curious to see whether or not the two actually work together!  That being said, I think the film will particularly speak to people who do not see themselves fitting into the boxes society demand we fit into;  Who recognize in themselves characteristics and interests that others might find contradictory.”

Chessboxing is a popular niche sport in Europe, England and California, growing into mainstream consciousness through the efforts of people such as David Bitton, director of Chessboxing: A King's Discipline.

Chessboxing is a popular niche sport in Europe, England and California, growing into mainstream consciousness through the efforts of people such as David Bitton, director of Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline.

F&B: What do you think/hope audiences will take away from the film?

“Chessboxing initially tends to make people laugh, so it’s often very quickly dismissed as a novelty or a joke.  I’d love for people who see the film to come away with the sense that there’s more to this combination than they originally thought, and perhaps develop an appreciation for things that sound out of the ordinary in the future.”

F&B: What position are you taking as film maker in telling the story of Chessboxing?

“Despite being a fan of the sport myself, I’m taking as neutral a stance as possible when it comes to the film.  I think that’s almost impossible in any film, even documentary, but I don’t appear as a character the film like say, Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock.  I think it’s much more interesting to allow the people who are actually doing something with the sport and who have given thought to what they think it should be to speak for themselves and then let the audience decide which vision they align with the most, if any.”

F&B: What is the film about thematically?

“Because the film has yet to be edited, a lot of the themes haven’t been entirely fleshed out yet.  One of the themes I see shaping up is how we as a society define success – as we follow the three people driving the sport forward, each with a different measure of success, it calls into question what it actually means for the sport to be successful – does it need to become a huge, dominant spectator sport like the UFC – or is it enough that it be a means to train ones body and mind in a manner similar to yoga?”

F&B: In the trailer/and promotional clips you play up not just the confrontation of opponents, but also the epic battles inside and outside the ring. Can you give us the two sentence history of that?

“The sport is still in its infancy and so we still don’t know how Chessboxing will look and how it will be in the future, or even if it will still be around.  That’s why I decided to center the film around the three people who are actively trying to shape that future and put forward the sport in the way that they think it should be.  Naturally, since their visions differ the relationship between them has gone through some dramatic ups and downs, but you’ll have to see the film to see what happens and to know how it all turns out!”

F&B: What made you decide to pursue crowd funding versus other forms of funding for your film?

“Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter allow indie filmmakers to reach out directly to the people who would want to see the film and get them involved in the process right from the start.  I felt Chessboxing was especially suited to crowdfunding because of the WTF factor of the subject matter and since there’s already a bit of a community surrounding it who want to see this film and are excited to help spread the word about the sport.  I’ve always been a DIY kind of filmmaker as well, so by crowdfunding the project it allows me to maintain creative control and make the film in the way I think is best.”

Films-and-books-f&B-1Chess-Boxing-A-Kings-Discipline-Kickstarter-Campaign-indie-movie-david-bitton

F&B: When are you hoping to release?

“The goal is to have the film completed by January 2014, but that will only be possible if we meet our goal in the Kickstarter campaign.”

F&B: Anything interesting happen on the road when filming your documentary?

“I was mugged just before the start of production and had all of my equipment stolen. I was almost stabbed while filming in North London, but was saved by a taxi driver who thought his fare was being stolen.”

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