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Newcastle University filmmaker nominated for top award


A documentary about India’s young blind chess players has been shortlisted for a prestigious Grierson award.

Algorithms, directed by Dr Ian McDonald, a senior lecturer in film at Newcastle University, has been selected in the Best Newcomer Documentary category.

It follows three boys over three years as they compete in blind chess tournaments in India and abroad and visits them in their homes where they reveal their struggles, anxieties and hopes.

“It is a great privilege to be nominated for a Grierson,” said Dr McDonald who made the film with his wife Geetha.  The filmmaking couple remortgaged their home to raise the cash required to make it. “Making the film has been a real struggle, but it’s had a great response wherever it has screened and now for the film to receive this nomination for a Grierson is a real honour for us.”

Ian was inspired to make the film after reading an Indian newspaper clipping about blind chess back in 2006.  “It was a community that was almost unknown to the outside world,” said Ian. “Yet it was thriving and that fascinated me.

“To be part of their world for three years was a transformative experience. It changed my understanding of ability and disability and reminded me of the forgotten significance of touch.

“Chess is really a mind game and is one of the few games where a blind person can play on par with a sighted opponent. In fact I made the mistake of challenging one of the boys to a match and he beat me in five minutes flat!”

Algorithms has already received accolades from all over the world. They are: 
• Best Film Trophy at Film South Asia, Nepal, 2013
• Audience Award at the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Films, UK, 2013
• Prix du Patrimoine Culturel Immateriel at the Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris,  2013
• Special Mention in the Best Documentary category at the Durban International Film Festival, South Africa, 2013
• Best Editing Award at the Mumbai International Film Festival, India, 2014
• Best Story Award at Krasnogorski International Festival of Sport Films, Moscow, 2014
• Best Foreign Documentary at the LA Femme Film Festival 2014

Algorithms was released in in Los Angeles last week and will open in New York cinemas later this month, and is expected to be released in the UK in November.

Ian’s success is just the latest to be enjoyed by Newcastle University filmmakers. Last year, Tina Gharavi was nominated for an outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer' BAFTA award for I am Nasrine, her story of a young Iranian girl who comes to live in the UK.

Teaching fellow Geoff Lowe is also a BAFTA winning producer. An interactive film he made about colour played at the National Gallery this summer as part of its acclaimed Making Colour exhibition.

Newcastle University is building on this expertise by launching a new degree in Film and Media next year.

Professor Charles Harvey, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences said: “Algorithms is a wonderful documentary which brings to life a world which most people know nothing about.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have such talented filmmakers working at Newcastle University and I am thrilled that their remarkable efforts are being recognised.

“Our students benefit greatly from their expertise and even more will do so when we launch our new degree in Film and Media next year and our single honours degree in film in 2016.”

Grierson 2014: The British Documentary Awards, take place on 3 November in London.


published on: 20 October 2014