Extreme Nerdism Comes to Texas Theatre with a Movie and a Human vs. Computer Chess Tournament

When Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess premiered at the Oak Cliff Film Festival, Texas Theatre paired it with a lobby chess battle: a tiny war waged and fought by humans.

For its theatrical release weekend, they'll hit the return key with "Texas Theatre Speed Chess Tournament: Man vs. Machine," a series of five-minute blitz rounds happening on Saturday, August 31. The competition's human victor will then face off against "HAL," an Apple IIGS that Aviation Films' Barak Epstein has treasured for 25 years -- at last proving if mortal or machine can best etch a murderous path within 64 squares.

Yes: Things are about to get extremely nerdy.

Computer Chess is a distant relative to Bujalski's family of early work (Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha and Beeswax). The pseudo-documentary clicks through a weekend tournament for chess-addicted computer programers, set in the 1980s. The men (and one lone woman) build and refine their machines in rooms, hallways and corridors of a low-budget hotel as they race towards the holy grail: an unbeatable logic algorithm.

But that's only a piece of the story. Computer Chess doubles as a DOS-rich fever dream in which characters become trapped in movement loops, psychedelics are consumed and you're left awkwardly laughing at the physical and philosophical setbacks of its key players. Shot on black and white Sony AVC-3260 video cameras from 1968, the film is lit under purposeful duress, leveling its character's foibles, insecurities and feelings of overconfidence under a home movie glow.

Computer Chess screens at Texas Theatre Friday, August 30 through Sunday, September 1. Register for Saturday's epic battle from 6 to 7 p.m. and stick around for the 9:00 p.m. screening. George Quartz makes it even weirder with a live show following the credits.

See also: Before Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, Dallas Had Boris, It's Own Chess-Playing Computer


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