King of the Night


King of the Night
Imad Khachan

“My father always said, ‘The most difficult thing for a child is to go home and find the door closed.’”

At New York’s last surviving chess shop, an immigrant without a family found a way to create his own.

As researchers and storytellers, we at Lonelyleap often come across places and characters that stop us in our tracks - but for one reason or another, we have to set them aside. King of the Night is a film that grew out of one of those moments.

We stumbled across the story of a tiny chess shop - the last true chess shop in New York - while looking for sports-related stories for a client. It wasn’t the right fit for that client’s needs (admittedly, chess as a sport is a bit of a stretch), but once we met the shop’s owner, Imad Khachan, we knew we needed to find another way to capture some of his remarkable life on film.

Imad Khachan

“Anybody who doesn’t speak any language... they can sit here and play chess. You can still hold a meaningful conversation without saying a word.”

Chess Forum is Imad’s life and his life’s work. As public gathering places in New York become increasingly endangered, the Forum represents a crucial community space - a respite from the elements, from commercial concerns, from isolation. Though Imad expresses regret for never having had his own children, the city should be grateful that instead, he has become “the father of everybody.”

When we met Imad for the first time, we had planned a casual one-hour interview. Armed with a list of a dozen questions about the store, we had no idea what to expect. Imad had been unresponsive over email and noncommittal, though enthusiastic, when we called the store to arrange a time to talk.


“Life takes care of everybody.”

The conversation ended up lasting almost four hours - though it was riddled with long pauses where Imad leapt from his seat to help customers, taught a quick chess lesson or ran to the basement to find a chess book to give away. In the time we sat with him, he let most customers leave without paying; more often than not, he would ply them with free bottles of water, a Nantucket Nectar or - if he could get them to accept it - a free chess set or book.

Born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, Imad Khachan came to New York City to pursue a graduate degree in literature at NYU. After years working at the Village Chess Shop, Imad gave up his education and opened his own store, Chess Forum, in 1995. Since then, he’s poured his life into the store, creating a rare environment, especially for a city like New York: one that welcomes people who would otherwise have nowhere to go to sit, converse, create friendships and share ideas. Nowadays, Imad spends over 72 hours per week in the store, every week of the year.

In King of the Night, we hope we’ve captured what we felt that first night we sat across the table from Imad.


Motion Graphics and Animation