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Wednesday, 21 November 2012 00:00

‘Brooklyn Castle’ showcases inner city chess champions

‘Brooklyn Castle’ showcases inner city chess champions brooklyncastle.com
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Katie Dellamaggiore
  • Dates: Opens November 21, 2012

I’d venture to say that few people would think about chess competition when asked about associations for Intermediate School 318, called I.S. 318, a Brooklyn middle school. As director Katie Dellamaggiore notes, 70-75% of the students’ families exist below the poverty level. And, oh yes, I.S.318 is a chess powerhouse.

The amazing sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students participate seriously in the Chess-in-the-Schools program. What immediately emerges is the hard work these diverse young boys and girls commit to—in school and out of school, holidays and every other day. In the course of the film, they pour their hearts out—devastated when they lose, ecstatic when they win—for themselves and for their teams.

They aim high, with scholarships riding on performance. In addition, Rochelle hopes to become the first African American Female Chess Master. Justus also wants to earn Master status, while Patrick is happy that chess builds concentration, given his A.D.H.D. and with matches lasting upwards of three hours. In fact, each of these students has an inspirational story, while their intense dedication creates a thoroughly engaging film as we also learn a bit about chess scoring and contests. But the film never gets bogged down in chess strategy. it’s the individuals who shine, who coach and buoy each other.

To that end, Dellamaggiore captures revealing, candid moments with family members—especially mothers and grandmothers, always an important factor for young, ambitious students. The families range from those from Nigeria and South America to African American and Caucasian individuals. As extraordinary are their supportive, proud coaches and teachers. They include Elizabeth Spiegel, a chess expert herself who seems to know when to encourage and when to push. Assistant principal John Gavin is an equally supportive guide and advocate.

When budget cuts impact their travel and, therefore, their chances to attend state, regional and national competitions, these chess experts take this seriously and respond actively, successfully campaigning for restoration of funds and teaching a valuable political lesson along the way. “Brooklyn Castle” is in the league with the recent documentary “Spellbound” on the national spelling bee championship. As with it, “Brooklyn Castle” profiles youngsters who are irresistibly wonderful. At a Landmark Theatre.

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