2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Eight – ALPHAGO
Day eight of the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival continued this year’s tradition of great weather and big crowds. Day eight brought me to the Oriental theater and their Spotlight presentation of the documentary ALPHAGO. (It didn’t hurt that my employer is a community partner for it, either.)
ALPHAGO, from director Greg Kohs, tells the story of the computer program AlphaGo battling against South Korean Lee Sedol, widely considered the best Go player in the world. Go is both simpler than Chess, but open to a lot more variations and creativity with a much larger board. The story of man vs. machine is a fairly timeless one too.
What ALPHAGO makes clear is that it’s not just man vs. machine, but it’s man vs. a team of men. Because of that dynamic, there are shifting sympathies and rooting interests throughout the film. Obviously, there’s the John Henry story of a man trying to hold off the progress of the machine, with a side of THE TERMINATOR thrown in, but it’s also clear that the programmers are doing something that they believe will have long term positive results for mankind. And that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the effort.
ALPHAGO doesn’t really venture into the many ethical rabbit holes that are brought up, but stays more on the competitive underdog story. This is very much a sports story with subtext, suited for a director that once worked for NFL films. ALPHAGO works on that sporting level, but you do kind of wonder if there’s a better deeper story in here. Especially as the film is kind of lacking in big personalities to really bring the conflict to life. You don’t need a heel here, but perhaps a perspective other than soft spoken introverts would have added something to the film. Albeit, a knowing joke about introverts brought down the house.
Still, if there’s a deeper film lurking in ALPHAGO, it has to also be admitted that the film as it is works. It’s tense, it touches on a number of key issues, and it gets the audience emotionally invested in the conflict and outcome. And perhaps it taps into fears that are shared by many people and conflicts to come, giving the film real stakes greater than a game contest. That makes it a film that I think will resonate.
ALPHAGO will be showing twice more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The next screening is Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 4 pm at the Avalon Theater followed by a final screening on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm at the Avalon Theater. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.