Sunday, February 19, 2012

Masters of Disaster (1986)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Documentary, Short Subjects - Sonya Friedman

"The Masters of Disaster" is a documentary short subject that tells the story of an unlikely youth chess team from Indianapolis who went on surprise the chess world with their success. The team, made up of young African Americans with no previous experience and led by their devoted teacher, went on to win the United States elementary school chess championship.

Sonya Friedman and her team did an admirable job in crafting "The Masters of Disaster." Because of the nature of the story behind the short film, it would have been very easy for the filmmakers to turn in a piece of cheeseball filmmaking, obsessing on the circumstances of each of the young students on the team. Instead, the filmmakers recognize the enormity of the achievement of the students without overly focusing on their backgrounds.

The amount of material the filmmakers pack into its running time is impressive. Several of the young students, as well as their teacher, are profiled, and the film follows the students to an international tournament. The final moments of the tournament are captured by the filmmakers without comment, and the finale is emotional and sincere without a trace of manipulation.

"The Masters of Disaster" isn't a brilliant film, and its straightforward narrative style is very much of its time and comes across as dated. Yet what the film lacks in style it makes up for in sincerity, and the filmmakers exhibit great maturity in allowing the story to speak for itself without overhyping the circumstances, and what results is a well made and touching film.

Once again, thanks go out to the Shirlington Branch of the Arlington Virginia Public Library ( for helping me track down this short movie through their interlibrary loan system.

Remaining: 3171 films, 868 Oscars, 5449 nominations

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