Click photo to enlargeThroughout the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the former Soviet Union believed they had an intellectual edge over the United States because of their prowess in the game of chess.

“Russians had dominated the sport for decades,” said documentary film director Liz Garbus during a phone interview from Los Angeles, Calif., with The Park Record. “It was a tent-pole of communist society and dominance in chess was a way of them demonstrating intellectual superiority all over the world.”

Then along came an American named Bobby Fischer. In, 1972, during the world championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland, he soundly defeated Boris Spassky, ending the Russian reign.

In the years to follow, Fischer fell victim to mental illness and died a recluse while living in Iceland in 2008.

“Bobby’s decline into obscurity was almost as fast as his rise,” Garbus said. “It was a fascinating story and I wanted to make a movie about it.”

Garbus, who garnered an Academy Award nomination for her 1998 film “The Farm: Angola,” is bringing her new documentary, “Bobby Fischer Against the World” to Sundance.

“I believe this is a first film to tell the entire story of Bobby Fischer using the narrative of this great sports match that was held in 1972,” she said.

Making films is always a rewarding process, said Garbus. But she wasn’t prepared for some of the unique challenges she faced while gathering material for this film.

“I’ve made many documentaries before from tough places such as America’s

Death Row, but I didn’t expect the difficulties I ran into telling the life of an American chess master,” she said. “While I knew there was going to be a storytelling challenge, I didn’t expect getting people to open up to me or obtaining access to information to be as difficult as it was.”

First off, those who were close to Fischer felt they had to protect his privacy, Garbus said.

“Later in his life, Bobby didn’t want anything to do with the press,” she said. “It wasn’t until after his death that people felt comfortable to talk about him and his life.”

And even then, there was little documentation about the reclusive gamer.

“Finding stills or archival film of him was incredibly difficult,” Garbus said. “We turned over every rock and combed the entire world for any little thing we could find. We tried to contact as many people who knew him as we could.”

It was even difficult to find any footage of the 1972 chess match, Garbus said.

“It was televised, but everyone said all the footage had been thrown out,” she said. “We searched everywhere we could.”

Eventually, Garbus found her reward.

“When we finally got footage we had been waiting for, it was like a gift from the grave,” she said. “It was the most amazing thing, because there he was doing what we wanted to tell in the story. To actually see it was unbelievable.”

One of the most satisfying elements of making the film was the affinity Garbus developed for this mysterious person, whom she had never met.

“We put together an intimate look at his childhood and his history with his parents,” she said. “It really helped us understand his personality and his later decline.

“When we would find a letter or find a book from when he was in school and saw his doodles in the margins, it was personally gratifying because we felt we were getting closer and closer to this elusive person.

“It even went so far as having Bobby show up in dreams,” she said. “We literally lived with him for three years.”

The experience helped Garbus understand and empathize with Fischer, who became a person who was famously anti-American and anti-Semitic, in spite of his Jewish ancestry.

“Since we followed his story from his childhood, we really understood his decline was fully spurred by mental illness and not that he was a hateful human being. He was suffering.”

“Bobby Fischer Against the World” clocks in at 93 minutes, which is a relatively short time to tell the story, Garbus said.

“We were always making choices about what to include in the film,” she said. “But we took it with a great responsibility, because we realize we are creating something about someone who was important to the country for the audiences. And it’s easy to get bogged down with tangents that detour from the important aspects of the story.”

Garbus knows people will ask her why she didn’t include certain things in the film.

“My response is and always has been, ‘You can’t be everything to everybody,'” she said. “It’s all about being a storyteller and at the same time you are trying to engage the audience and tell a great story.”

Screenings for “Bobby Fischer Against the World” are Friday, Jan. 21, 11:30 a.m., at the Park City Library; Saturday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m., at the Redstone Cinema; Sunday, Jan. 23, 11:30 p.m., at the Prospector Square Theatre, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m., at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City; Friday, Jan. 28, 11:30 a.m., at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City and Saturday, Jan. 29, 3:30 p.m. at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden.