Bravo Brooklyn Castle!
This inspiring first feature from filmmaker Katie Dellamaggiore champions public education and the kids who benefit from the opportunities provided by dedicated teachers and administrators at Brooklyn, New York's I.S. 318, an inner city junior high at which more than 65 percent of the kids are from homes with incomes incomes that fall well below the national poverty level and where they face all of the social and psychological problems brought on by poverty.
The students at I.S. 318, however, have something to be proud of, something that boosts school moral and their self esteem, and gives them the confidence to strive to fulfill their ambitions. It is the I.S. 318 Chess team, a powerhouse of players who have won more national championships than any other school in the U.S.
The chess team is a phenonemon. It was started informally a decade ago, when a teacher brought in a couple of boards and set them out for the kids to use. The students showed interest and aptitude, and the coaching became more serious. The school decided it would be a good experience for the kids to play in the national championship matches, and they won. And, they one again the next year. And again. And yet again.
Yes, the team's achievement has been remarkable. Not only have they filled the school's trophy case, they've also raised school spirit in a way that has vitalized other students in their regular studies and other extracirricular activities. Back in 2003, I.S. 318 was considered to be one of the worst schools in the New York City public school system. It is now ranked as one of the best.
The film focuses on several kids who are high ranking members of the chess team, following them into their chess training sessions, their regular classes and into their homes -- where we see their parents' pride in their achievements. There is Rochelle, who is the tweenage daughter of a single mom and who is determined to reach her goals of becoming the first African-American female to be named a chess master and getting a scholarship to college so she can continue her studies. Pobo is a popular boy who shows unflagging support for his fellow chess team members and who is determined to become the school president and, eventually, to run for public office and perhaps become U.S. President. Alexis is a lad who wants to win at chess so he can get into one of New York City's top tier high schools, go on to a top tier college and establish himself in a profession that will allow him to support his immigrant family, who've supported him during his childhood. They, and the other team members in the film, are a remarkably talented and charismatic lot. They are smart, disciplined, dedicated and determine. You wind up rooting for all of them. And, you realize, as they do, that even if they lose a match now and again, they are longterm winners -- not only at the game of chess, but in life, as well.
A lot of credit must be given to the school's chess coaches, Elizabeth Vicary and John Galvin, and the school principal, Fred Rubino, who tirelessly advocate for the kids and the chess program, and prove to be as dedicated and determined as the kids to keep the program active and viable despite New York City's severe budget cuts for public schools.
Winners and Winners
The film is a refreshing and reassuring look at what it is possible for those who show some initiative to achieve within the New York City public school system, especially in light of the negative views presented by such as Waiting For Superman and The Lottery that advocate for the growth of privately run but publically funded "charter schools" that determine a child's access to a better education by the due process of a lottery system.
Still, the film does dramatically call attention to the effects of budget cuts on New York City schools and their ability to give their students all of the opportunities -- such as the chance to train for and win chess competitions -- that they deserve.
This engaging, entertaining film might just spur you to become involved in some way in making sure that important and productive public school programs survive the recession and further budget cuts.
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- Title: Brooklyn Castle
- Director: Katie Dellamaggiore
- US Theatrical Release Date: October 19, 2012
- Running Time: 101 mins.
- Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
- Location: Brooklyn, New York and other US cities
- Language: English
- Production Country: USA
- Production Companes: Le Castle Film Works, Rescued Media
- Theatrical Distribution Company: Producers Distribution Agency
- Official Website