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Andrew Bujalski – Computer Chess

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After an eclectic career acting, directing and writing in shorts, features and docs (including a lot of ‘Special Thanks’ credits), Andrew Bujalski stormed the hip festival circuit last year with his inventive faux-doc ”Computer Chess”.

Moviehole spoke to the 35 year old director about casting computer nerds, the symbolism of cats and just what ”Computer Chess” is actually about – if anything. As you’ll see, Bujalski doesn’t want to impose any intention he might have had onto the audience, but that doesn’t make ”Computer Chess” any less a treat or Bujalski any less a director to watch.

There’s mention of artificial intelligence, something the final scene seems to cement. What was your intention with that subtext, if it exists?

I’ll have to beg forgiveness for being a pretentious artiste, but I hope the audience will have fun with their own interpretations of the ending, not to mention the beginning and the middle.

I certainly don’t believe there’s any one ‘right’ answer to any of the movie’s questions – or maybe they’re Zen koans.

What does the period of the film evoke for you?

The movie takes place in an era right around when my own conscious memory begins. While I certainly wasn’t immersed in debates – philosophical or technical – about artificial intelligence when I was a small child, I do recall some of our cultural temperament about those topics, the intertwined excitement and fear we approached technology with.

The specifics may seem quaint now – we’ve all more or less survived so far – but the larger questions struck me as terrifically relevant to the present.

Have you heard many wild interpretations of the film that have surprised you?

Oh man, I’m sure I have. More than one person has commented that the cats represent the Internet, as the Internet so enjoys its representations of cats. That one had never occurred to me.

More than one viewer has floated the notion the entire movie is seen from the perspective of a bug-filled computer program. I like that one. Of course it would also seem to suggest that, as the director/editor, my own mind is a bug-filled computer program, which seems accurate enough.

The film is enigmatic in the way that it reveals and conceals its ideas. Is that the kind of cinema you’re attracted to?

Certainly my favorite moviegoing experiences are ones where I feel like I’m just a half step behind the material and eager to catch up. Mild disorientation is, for whatever reason, my happy space.

I’d make the case that I am always aiming for some semblance of this feeling – even in my earlier, less deliberately jarring movies.

How deep do you want viewers to immerse themselves?

Is that a dare? How deep are they willing to go? Let’s go all the fuckin’ way!

What were some of key points of interest you wanted to explore?

Oh y’know, everything that’s on screen. Chess, cats, loops, hallucinogens, debugging, virginity, loaves of bread.

Pseudo documentaries can rise and fall on depictions of realism. Can you talk about your instructions to the actors in order to achieve such a realistic atmosphere?

Casting is always everything. A lot of these guys are real-deal computer programmers.

I might have gotten fine results from casting Daniel Day-Lewis and sending him to computer camp for a couple weeks, but to me it wouldn’t touch putting the likes of James Curry and Gordon Kindlmann on screen to breathe life into these characters. They know much more about this world and this life than I could have known how to fake.

Tell us about the shoot.

It was my shortest and most harried shoot ever and my first as a father, where I was rushing home at the end of each day in the hopes of seeing my son before he went to sleep. But as exhausting as it was (and in pictures from the set I look quite bleary) I’ve also never had so much fun creatively. I’m so grateful I got to do it.

“Computer Chess” is now on DVD

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About Drew Turney

An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.

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