Through the Mirror of Chess: A Cultural Exploration

AVAILABLE NOW: A captivating documentary film examining the remarkable impact of chess on culture, art, science, and sport. The film takes the viewer on an exhilarating journey across a wide range of times and places touching on cultural history, the nature of competitiveness, AI, psychology, game theory, chess variants, art, literature, gender issues, education, social empowerment, prison reform, and much more to comprehensively address the question of what makes the game so unique.

The film offers an experience of cinematic storytelling at its best with an engaging narrative and exciting visuals. Watch the trailer below where you can also find a list of featured participants .

Year: 2023; IMDB page here;
Total runtime of the full series: 240′ (see below for the 60′ version)
Language: English with captions in English and French
Pricing: rent the full series for 1 week for $9.99 or purchase the full series for $19.99
Where can I watch the series: rent or purchase the series worldwide on the new Ideas Roadshow app or on Vimeo On Demand – click on the related button below.
NEW: the DVD is now on available on Amazon

> Educational licensing/libraries/educational DVD with PPR: visit HERE
> For TV/IFE licensing there are 2 versions: 4 x 60′ & 1 x 60′: more details HERE

Below is a brief synopsis of each episode: 

PART 1 – UNIQUENESS: The historical and societal importance of games, what chess is and isn’t, why it’s an ideal vehicle to explore the captivating link between games and culture and Hollywood’s oversimplification of chess.

PART 2 – THE FIRST MILLENNIUM: An examination of chess’ intriguing trajectory from Ancient India to the Sasanian Empire to the Golden Age of Islam to Medieval Europe, highlighting its many influences on art, literature and politics throughout a broad range of very different societies. 

PART 3 – ART, SCIENCE, SPORT: A detailed investigation of chess’ remarkable cultural impact from the late 15th century to the present day, from the birth of the modern game to Renaissance dialogues to artificial intelligence.

PART 4 – CONTEMPORARY IMPACT: How the chess world reveals key aspects of our current beliefs and values, along with an exploration of several specific chess-related programs, from schools to prisons to personal empowerment.

Read a detailed review by Chief Film Critic Chris Knight, National Post: “…a fascinating stroll through the history of the game, pausing to examine its many (non-Hollywood) cultural connections to the world at large.” (here > Hollywood’s Gambit)

“…one of the deepest investigations and undertakings into chess ever done. Anyone passionate about the history, culture, and community around the game will be interested in watching this series.” Lichess review

Finding your next series to stream can be more frustrating than facing the London System. Fortunately, Through the Mirror of Chess: A Cultural Exploration, solves your Saturday night dilemma…The brilliantly edited segment “Hollywood Chess” is well worth the price of admission.”
Tom Shupe, Top blogger (here)

“…shows the cultural impact and history of chess from its origins to modern times. It is very informative and well produced, and features many familiar faces.” – Ben Johnson, Host Perpetual Chess Podcast (full podcast with Howard Burton here)

…the films are among the most comprehensive examples of chess exploration in documentary format.” – Cecil Rosner, Globe and Mail (here)

“…brilliantly conveys the fact that chess is both an intellectual language at the cutting edge of technological and cultural development while also being a great equaliser for all people regardless of gender, race, or cultural context.” – see more on IMDB

A great overview of the beginnings of chess while also taking the viewer through to the state of chess as it exists today. The series explores the philosophy of chess, why people play it at all, and how great thinkers have viewed chess over the years. All in all this is an encyclopedic look at chess as it exists in relation to society that is fantastic in its scope.
GM Daniel Gormally

“ ambitious and enlightening documentary that successfully illuminates the intricate connections between chess and various aspects of human society. Burton’s meticulous research, combined with captivating visuals and compelling storytelling, make this film an engaging and intellectually stimulating experience.” – Alexander Horvath, Opening Master

Featured participants:

  • Two experts involved with the biggest online chess communities in the world Danny Rensch ( and Theo Wait (Lichess)
  • Several top chess players and other experts on the culture of chess, including Daniel Gormally, Jovanka Houska, Larry Kaufman, Raymond Keene, Rick Knowlton, Elshan Moradiabadi, Elisabeth Pähtz, Bruce Pandolfini, Irene Sukandar
  • Jenny Adams, Professor of English, UM Amherst and author of Power Play: The Literature and Politics of Chess in the Late Middle Ages
  • Pontus Carlsson, GM, involved with Business Meets Chess and Kids
  • Tom Dart, Sheriff Cook County, Illinois
  • Deborah Freeman Fahid, author of Chess and Other Games Pieces From Islamic Lands
  • Mikhail Korenman, Director of Cook County Jail Chess Program, Illinois
  • David Kwan and Jenny Yan, experts on Xiangqi and its community
  • Russell Makofsky, The Gift of Chess
  • Tunde Onakoya, Chess in Slums Africa
  • Antonio Panaino, Professor of Iranian Studies, University of Bologna
  • Carl Portman, chess in UK prisons
  • Ulrich Schädler, Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Freiburg University
  • Wang-Sheng Lee, Professor of Economics, Monash University
  • David Smerdon, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Development Economics, The University of Queensland
  • Elisabeth Spiegel, chess teacher/coach featured in the documentary Brooklyn Castle
  • Hou Yifan, Chinese Grandmaster, Former Women’s World Chess Champion and Professor of the School of Physical Education, ​​Shenzhen University

The accompanying book, Chessays: Travels Through The World Of Chess, is now available as well.