Brooklyn Castle
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When someone mentions chess, what kind of images does it bring to mind? Maybe some old guys in a park…or an intense competition of international intellectuals…or maybe just a classroom full of nerdy high school chess club members. Whatever the case, it probably doesn’t bring to mind images of a bunch of kids practicing plays in an inner-city junior high school—but that’s what makes the documentary Brooklyn Castle so eye-opening.

At I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, chess isn’t just for rich, nerdy kids. It isn’t for old guys in parks or intense international competitors, either. At I.S. 318, chess is for everyone, no matter what their background. Chess is cool at I.S. 318—and the school has a record 26 national chess championships to show for it.

Director Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle introduces audiences to the kids at I.S. 318 who have devoted their afternoons and weekends to being the best of the best in chess—and to the teachers and administrators who continue to fight for the budget to make it all possible.

  
 
As the recession leads to more and more budget cuts, the school’s award-winning chess program hangs in the balance. But these remarkable kids—kids from all kinds of backgrounds, playing at all kinds of skill levels—continue to practice, hoping to reach both their personal goals and their team goals.

Brooklyn Castle is certainly an unexpected film. These days, most documentaries about our country’s educational system are pretty depressing. Budgets are getting cut, teachers aren’t being held accountable, kids are suffering, and lawmakers don’t seem to care. But Brooklyn Castle isn’t really that kind of documentary. Sure, it focuses quite a bit on the school’s financial struggles—on the challenges that the teachers, administrators, and students face as their budget goes through cut after cut throughout the year. But it also shows that—at least at I.S. 318—people care. The kids really want to learn and grow and achieve their goals. Their parents are active and hard-working, and they’ll happily make sacrifices for their kids’ education. And the teachers and administrators are so dedicated to the kids and their school’s programs that they’re willing to put up a fight. In the sea of grim educational documentaries, this one is a much-needed breath of fresh air, offering just a little bit of hope and inspiration.

Still, the film wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable without a lovable cast of characters. From lovably upbeat hype man Pobo (who’s surprisingly hard on himself) to 13-year-old national champ Rochelle to 11-year-old Patrick, who sees chess as his way to battle ADHD, these inspiring, hard-working kids will keep a smile on your face (and maybe, at times, a tear or two in your eye) as you join them on their journey. The experience is much like sitting through any inspirational sports drama: you’ll become invested in the characters and their story. You’ll fall in love with these kids. You’ll feel every painful loss. And you’ll sit on the edge of your seat as the final competition draws closer, hoping for the best possible outcome for these deserving young people.

Of course, at 101 minutes, it is, admittedly, a little long. And the story, meanwhile, tends to meander at times, lacking organization and direction. But, really, those are merely small complaints about an otherwise uplifting film.

Brooklyn Castle is a crowd-pleaser of a documentary. It’s fun and inspiring and filled with lovable young characters. So if you’re starting to feel that the country’s educational system is in a hopeless downward spiral—and no one really cares anymore—be sure to seek this one out. It’s sure to give you some hope for our nation’s future.


Ed. Note: Brooklyn Castle is currently playing at film festivals around the country. For more on this uplifting documentary (including where you can see it for yourself), visit BrooklynCastle.com.

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