When players of the card game bridge play as if they know how the entire hand has been dealt, it is referred to as a double dummy. This American pastime comes to life in this documentary as it combines the game’s cherished history with its hopeful present and future. For a long time, bridge has been perceived as a game exclusively for an older generation, but in recent years there has been a spike of young bridge players, featured especially in the 2012 World Youth Team Championships. This competition unfolds excitingly as highly talented players compete and make lasting relationships through the esteemed card game.
Double Dummy, the first film by Keswickian, John McAllister (producer), a long-time bridge enthusiast, offers an extraordinary look at the competitive world of youth bridge and the relationships forged by the game around the world. The film premiered at the 30th Annual Virginia Film Festival on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at 2 pm, in the theater at St. Anne’s Belfield. A discussion followed the screening with producer John McAllister and former New York Times bridge columnist Phillip Alder.
The film is narrated by McAllister and features Warren Buffet and the two 2012, USA1 and USA2, American World Youth Bridge Teams among many others. The film is directed by Lucas Krost and edited by Aashish Edakadampil. The Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts supported the production of the film.
We last interviewed John for the December 2014 Issue of Keswick Life after his love for the game of bridge leads him to the ‘Bridge World Series’ in China. The 14th Red Bull World Series held in Sanya, Hainan, China that October where John was a participant on the world stage for the very first time.
We caught up with John shortly after the screening of Double Dummy at The Commonhouse in Charlottesville.
KL: Why Bridge?
JM: Bridge brings people from different backgrounds, countries, generations, and orientations together in an incredibly stimulating and rich playing environment.
KL: I overheard a guest at your VaFF premiere party say [on seeing the film], “I have to say that was way better than I thought possible!”
JM: [big genuine laugh].
KL: So, where have you played bridge?
JM: Well, not in any particular order [we later referenced a list], Charlottesville, Chicago, Delhi, Sanya, Montecatini Terme, Tromsø, Lyon, London, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Phoenix, Kansas City, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Stara Zagora, Varna, Dallas, Orlando, Naperville, Toronto, Virginia Beach, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Cambridge, Washington, Denver, Providence, St. Louis, Palm Beach Gardens, Richmond, Monterey, Santa Clara, Chattanooga, Palmetto, Waynesboro, Taicang, Naples, Bethesda, Williamsburg, Wilkes-Barre, Buena Vista, Hunt Valley, Baltimore, Hartes Club, Lexington, Harrisonburg, Alexandria, Biarritz and Copenhagen.
KL: Wow, your frequent flyer miles balance must be off the charts!
JM: Yes, they are something, I am thinking of going a bit nomadic, pack my stuff up and put it all in storage and travel around.
KL: Sounds like you have already been all around, where to?
JM: Thinking Costa Rica for a little r&r. Then back to work on the game.
KL: So, what did Warren Buffet have to say?
JM: He was open to the idea of being interviewed for the movie. He said, “Bridge is such a sensational game that I wouldn’t mind being in jail if I had three cellmates who were decent players.”
KL: Did you encounter any naysayers?
JM: Yes! I was not even deterred by a phone call following the dinner with my new friend, professional bridge player, Gavin Wolpert. I had called Gavin to ask him if there had ever been a documentary movie on bridge before. He was incredulous. “You’re serious,” Gavin said, “You must be joking,” he continued. We went back and forth like this for a good five minutes before he shared with me that a documentary film team had followed him and his fellow rising star partner Vince Demuy around for two years(!) before eventually broadcasting ‘In the Cards’ on Canadian television.
KL: We are sitting here in Commonhouse, a club co-founded by one of your partners in the film. Tell me about you and Derek Sieg.
JM: In 1980 our family moved to a farm in Louisa County, Virginia. That fall I started pre-school at St. Anne’s Belfield. My older sister and I rode a bus that the Kavanaugh family from Louisa hired to take students to school and home each day. It was St. Anne’s that I met one of my closest childhood friends, Derek Sieg. While Derek and I never managed to be in the same class, we very much enjoyed each other’s friendship.
KL: There must be lots of stories, any childhood favorites?
JM: One day I went over to Derek’s house on Twenty One Curves. He told me that he had bad news. “John, I am moving to Florida.” It turns out he had misheard his parents. In fact, they were moving to Flordon the suburb where his mother still lives today. Derek’s father, Terry took me to my first Virginia basketball games. In my childhood, he was the ultimate dad. I can remember throwing the football with him and Derek in their front yard on fall days just like today.
The Sieg’s took me in as part of their family. Terry was our soccer coach, and I sometimes got to spend the night over at their house on school nights as a member of the Killer Bees soccer team. Spending the night on school nights was quite the treat.
KL: What lead you guys to Double Dummy?
JM: The genesis for Double Dummy happened organically in a dinner with Derek and his writing partner Jeremy Goldstein many years later. I had just returned from my first full North American Bridge Championships, and D&J took me to dinner as a thank you for contributing to their Kickstarter campaign for their movie ‘Hot Air.’ Jeremy started the conversation by saying, “We think you are the only person we know that plays bridge.”
JM: I then proceeded to tell them about a brainstorming session I attended; where I found out that the average member of the American Contract Bridge League was 67 years old and going up by two years every year. No sooner had I said that did Jeremy remark, perhaps now infamously, “that sounds like an idea for a documentary movie.” And the three of us were off to the races!
KL: What an incredible story!
JM: It has come full circle with Derek, and now a week after premiering my first feature film [at St. Anne’s-Befield]. The school where I learned to read, play piano and made a lifelong friend.
KL: How do I get a copy of the movie?
JM: We are planning to make it available online for rent or purchase on March 1st, 2018. That is one week before the start date for the Spring 2018 North American Bridge Championships. There is a multi-city North American tour to come before that for which we are currently fleshing out the details.
JM: Are you interested in helping to host a screening in Keswick?
KL: Sure, screening, why not! I am sure we can a group together, are you willing to come and do a discussion?
JM: I am up for anything that puts the spotlight on the game of bridge and gets more young people interested in learning bridge. This question was posed at a brainstorming session at the Spring 2012 North American Bridge Championships in Memphis, TN. The tradition and game needs to be passed down from the older generations to the younger; the young blood will ensure the game survives. That is part of what the movie is about at the end of the day.
KL: Tell me more about next steps for the film and sharing it with the world.
JM: We are seeking anyone who would like to see Double Dummy in their town.We ask them, do you think we can get a crowd? They may have an excellent idea of a place we can partner with or perhaps they represent an organization or venue and would like to host a Double Dummy screening. Possible screening venues don’t necessarily need A/V equipment; it’s not a deal-breaker. In some cases, we can bring in all the required gear. We try and ask prospects to tell us a little bit about their town, organization and the screening idea.
To say that you played a hand ‘double dummy’ is the highest compliment that you can pay a bridge player. It means to play the hand as if you know where all the cards are. This film is a ‘double dummy,’ they nailed it, and it is thorough enough to learn a few things about the game along the way. It made me laugh out loud, agonize over making the opening bid on the big stage and understand the motivation for the game through the multi-generational stories featured. This film is a celebration of the card game. The filmmakers show that bridge is not just a game for my Grandmother, it is a vibrant game played and loved by people of all ages and a global pastime. Anyone who has any desire to gain some knowledge about bridge should watch this. The stories of each of the characters are deep and emotional. If you enjoy competitive play of any kind, you will enjoy this film.
Be sure to follow John’s travels at http://doubledummymovie.com and shuffle the deck for a good game of Bridge with a group of friends!