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 Post subject: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #1 Posted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:37 pm 
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I just saw the premiere of The Surrounding Game today. I thought I'd share my impressions and give an overview of the film (in spoilers) for those who are interested. I am not a film critic, so apologies if this isn't very articulate.

First, my impressions: it was an excellent film and very much worth the wait. I was moved and entertained for the entire run-time. I was also pleasantly surprised at some of the themes that surfaced in the film as it explored more than just the game of Go and the pro certification tournament. The movie definitely has substance.

As far as I could tell, most of the members of the audience were not Go players, yet many of them remained for the Q&A with the filmmakers. The reception seemed to be very positive and many of the questions were about Go rather than the film, which was heartening - hopefully this film will help spread Go in America.

Here is a more detailed overview/write-up of the film. It doesn't have any major spoilers, but just in case, it's in spoiler tags:
The film spins two distinct narratives together throughout. The first, and most central, is the story of Ben Lockhart, Andy Liu and Curtis Tang and their participation in the first professional certification exam in the United States. The second is an introduction to the game of Go and to its history and culture in China, Korea and Japan. I'll comment on each narrative and then the documentary as a whole.

The pro certification narrative is the heart of the film. It works wonderfully, and despite an overall serious tone, has plenty of humor (partly due to the eccentricities of its subjects). There is a focus on Ben initially, who is the brother of one of the film makers, but Andy is also front and center. Aside from the obvious drama of the certification tournament, the film also explores what it means to devote yourself so much to a game like this. Curtis is used as a contrast here, whereas he is 'normal' (his own description of himself), Ben and Andy seem to have a more ascetic conception of the kind of life they want to pursue - one devoted wholly to Go. These themes arise organically from conversations between the players themselves, the film doesn't impose them. So aside from the drama of the tournament, we also get to see some of these individuals reflect on and struggle with the place of Go in their life. I should probably note that this theme is mostly an undercurrent and mostly only comes explicitly to the surface towards the end of the film, so my commentary might make it seem more prominent than it is. I am mainly discussing it because it was a bit of a surprise to me, and isn’t not something you would obviously expect to be in the film.

The historical narrative serves the function of introducing the game to a new audience. Through some wonderful animations by Xiangjun Shi, the audience is introduced to the rules of Go and given a rough sense of its strategic structure and complexity. There is a nice use of a ladder to illustrate how local conflicts in different areas of the board can impact each other – a ladder is a very blunt example of this, but blunt is exactly what someone unfamiliar with Go needs. In addition, we get a historical narrative of the culture and development of Go in China, Japan and Korea. This historical narrative is, of necessity, somewhat barebones and I don’t think more could have been included, realistically speaking. That said, as a Go player familiar with some of the history, there was a lot that I wish the film could have included.

The film moves back and forth between each narrative, using the subsidiary historical narrative to support the tournament narrative. Early in the film, it is used to contrast the culture of Go in Korea to that of America – we bounce between a much more dignified and serious culture of Go to a scene where Andy decides to dump out a canister of pringle chips into a plastic bag so he has a container to store cash in for his roadtrip to the Go congress. Later in the film, I think the historical narrative also serves to strengthen the more philosophical themes. Having learned about the elevated status of Go in China (where it was one of the four arts) and Japan, its being viewed as a game of beauty and value, Ben and Andy’s relationship to the game makes more sense and carries more weight – it is harder to imagine the audience taking their devotion as seriously if the historical narrative were absent. The two narratives actually ultimately join in a way that was very touching, but I won’t comment on that in order to avoid spoilers.

All in all, I very much enjoyed the film. I might be biased, as a Go lover and a kickstarter backer of the film, but it was definitely one of the better documentaries I’ve seen. I’m excited to see how broad an audience this can reach, hopefully it is close enough to the AlphaGo hype to help bring more people into contact with Go in the west.


I'd be happy to answer any questions about the film. I've got a parallel thread going on reddit as well (https://www.reddit.com/r/baduk/comments ... ding_game/).


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Post #2 Posted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 6:32 pm 
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Thanks a lot for this nice review, muchly appreciated!

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 Post subject: Re: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #3 Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 9:44 am 
Judan

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Was there an official word on when the digital download will be released to backers? I heard somewhere, I think, that they can't show at film festivals if they release a digital download. I don't know much about film festivals, but does that mean it'd be available around August?

Was there anything the team said about it? I tried checking the Kickstarter page, and it still says there that digital downloads are released prior to the first showing, so that's probably not the official stance right now.

Are there still plans to send out a digital download?

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 Post subject: Re: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #4 Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 11:17 am 
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Kirby wrote:
Was there an official word on when the digital download will be released to backers? I heard somewhere, I think, that they can't show at film festivals if they release a digital download. I don't know much about film festivals, but does that mean it'd be available around August?

Was there anything the team said about it? I tried checking the Kickstarter page, and it still says there that digital downloads are released prior to the first showing, so that's probably not the official stance right now.

Are there still plans to send out a digital download?


I didn't ask about this, as I assumed the update from February (see below) still held. If there were any other kickstarter backers in the audience, they didn't either (from the audience I saw, I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only one there). You are correct that it is apparently a requirement for being screened at these film festivals that the film has not already been distributed. As I understand it, this is because these film festivals are partly venues for potential distributors to scout for films to pick up.

The most recent update in this regard on February 20th stated the following:

Quote:
What's Next?
For those of you still waiting for a DVD and/or film poster, we're working now to set up the infrastructure for reward fulfillment, but packages will be sent out starting in May.


I suspect that the digital download will be sent out at the same time that rewards will be sent out (it would be very strange for them to send out DVDs but not digital downloads). The timing also makes sense given their current film festival schedule, as all of their screenings are in April. So, unless they get admitted to more festivals, they would be free to distribute the film in May.

If it turns out that they get accepted to more festivals that extend later, maybe they will have to wait until all of the screenings (I'm not really sure how the restriction on distribution prior to film festival screenings works), in which case the distribution of rewards could be as late as August, I imagine.

I can say that when I introduced myself as a backer after the the Q&A, Cole expressed regret at the delay and said that they really want to get the rewards out as soon as they can. Maybe I should have asked when we could expect them, but given the February update and the fact that he didn't volunteer this information, I assumed that there was no news on that front. Hopefully we can get a more definitive update as they get the infrastructure for distribution ready and hear back from more film festivals (if there remain festivals to hear back from).


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 Post subject: Re: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #5 Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 1:30 pm 
Judan

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Thanks, Monadology!

The schedule on the website appears to be here:
http://www.surroundinggamemovie.com/en/schedule/

This lists April 21-22 as the last currently scheduled festival, however, since the go congresses were also listed, I assumed that maybe they'd wait until after they released at the congresses, too? Not sure. I guess go congresses probably don't preclude them from releasing anything like a film festival would...

It also says:
Quote:
More screenings TBA. Check back soon!


So maybe we just have to wait to see if there are more screenings.

I don't particularly mind when the date is, but I'm a little curious, since I'd like to see the finished product. I don't live in any of those states, so if I'll be able to view it without travelling anytime soon, I'd prefer that.

I'll cross my fingers for May :-)

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 Post subject: Re: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #6 Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 4:05 pm 
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Here is a post by Cole (from a mere two hours ago) from the reddit thread linked in my OP:

Quote:
Hi there,
This is Cole Pruitt (I'm one of the co-directors/producers on The Surrounding Game). You are totally right, and for any backers feeling neglected, we want to apologize and give you some context on the process of screenings.
As we said last year in our Kickstarter update, film festivals will not accept films that have been released or are available online. We understand that this was not what we had advertised (largely because we didn't understand the intricacies of distribution), so we announced to all backers on the website and from Kickstarter that we would refund anyone's pledge to make it right with everyone. Good communication is very important to us because the Go community is the lifeblood of the project, so we've sent out over 50 official updates through Kickstarter and our mailing list over the last 5 years since the start of the project. Obviously I wouldn't expect folks to read each and every one if you had missed it, so I apologize if you hadn't seen that information before. Of course, it's still valid - if any backer opts for a refund, we can fulfil it ASAP. As for deliverables, yes, we'll start shipping in May as mentioned in the email you referenced.
Last, I just wanted to give you a sense of the scale of the project and how it changed since its infancy (I hope this can help justify in good faith why things have been slower than expected). The total funding we raised from Kickstarter was about $25,000, but the total budget of the film was several times larger than that, not counting all the in-kind benefits. Will and I have each put several thousand hours of our lives into the film for no pay over the last five years, and that's how we wanted it - this is a passion project that can have a big impact on spreading Go around the world.
We're still so grateful for KS and other backers to have helped us launch the film and to have been promoters of the film through the last few years... it's out of a love for Go that we started the project in the first place. Anyway, hope this helps, and happy to answer any questions (or listen to comments).


Looks like May (a mere month away) is definitely the current ETA.


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Post #7 Posted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 7:29 pm 
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Nice!

Thanks for the follow up :-)

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Post #8 Posted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:32 am 
Judan

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I asked on Facebook and they said they'd aim to have downloads up by around June.

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Post #9 Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 8:46 pm 
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Did this ever get released outside of festivals?

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 Post subject: Re: The Surrounding Game - Impressions
Post #10 Posted: Sat Jul 08, 2017 10:30 pm 
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It was released to Kickstarter backers. I saw the digital download version. All in all, it was a great film.

I'd say that the only complaint I had was that it seemed that some of the people being interviewed (e.g. Andy Liu and Ben Lockhart) were trying too hard to sound cool or philosophical (e.g. talking about aliens or supreme beings, etc.). I thought it was a bit too much.

Other than that bit, I think it was a great film, and I'd highly recommend it!

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