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Chess Legends in Brooklyn: New Doc Inspires with Movie

October 31, 2012

Brooklyn Castle film still: Trophy winners!

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Documentaries can be educational and inspirational, but rarely are they also entertaining and thrilling. The new documentary, Brooklyn Castle, hits all those high notes, making this one film that you must see. If you liked “Hoop Dreams”, “Spellbound” and “Dogtown and Z Boys”, then”Brooklyn Castle” is the next successor in that line. It’s that good.

Imagine a middle school in Brooklyn where the cool kids are the chess champions. That’s what has happened at Bed-Stuy middle school I.S. 318.  The chess team there, made up from below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high schoolers,  rule the school with hard work, dedication and leadership.

Brooklyn Castle film still: I.S. 318 Chess Team on the train practicing

Chess has transformed the school from one cited in 2003 as a “school in need of improvement” to one of New York City’s best. But a series of recession-driven public school budget cuts threatens to undermine those hard-won successes.

Brooklyn Castle follows 5 members of the chess team. As each kid reveals their aspirations, personal challenges and disappointments, we can’t help but root for them to succeed. These kids dream- and dream big. Their goals are nothing less than; 1st African American Female Chess Master, 1st African American Youngest Chess Master, Junior High School National Champions, and scholarships to colleges worth $68,000.

The 5 members of the chess team

How hard do they work? The I.S. 318 chess team currently has 85 members and has won thirty national championship chess titles—more than any other junior high school in the country.  If Albert Einstein, whose skill level probably was around 1800, was to join the team, he’d only rank fourth.

Brooklyn Castle film still: Rochelle- studying to become the 1st African American Female Chess Master

How do these kids do it? It’s nothing less than studying every moment, taking chess class 7 days a week and practicing, practicing, practicing. But they don’t do it alone. These kids have vehement supporters; their avuncular principal, appropriately named Fortunato whose brother started the chess program 18 years ago, their brilliant and supportive chess teacher /coach Elizabeth Spiegel whose kind words resonate before and after matches and their counseling chess coordinator John Galvin. These guides coach game strategies and also life strategies: “they are studying at a level that the answers aren’t clear to anybody.”

Brooklyn Castle film still:: Elizabeth Spiegel

With the support of their guides, parents and their fellow team members, coupled with their hard work, these kids have the foundation to succeed. And they do.

Brooklyn Castle film still: Champion Alexis Paredes at home with trophy

Despite their outrageous successes, I.S. 318 is burdened with  2-4% budget cuts that may cripple their chances to compete. But, these kids know how to face adversity, they do it every day in their chess class. The kids rally their fellow classmates to participate in letter writing campaigns to the governor, and raise money through candy bar sales and walk-athons. These kids are a formidable force- and they aren’t even on the chess board.

Brooklyn Castle film still: Vicary and Galvin Talk Budget Cuts

After all, if they can master the world’s most difficult game, what can’t they do?

****In 2012, they became the first Middle School to win the High School National Championships.

You can see it now in movie theaters in NYC: watch this with your kids too. This is our Brooklyn kids at their finest.

The movie has won accolades across the documentary world sphere, including the Audience Award at South by Southwest and Newport Beach Film Festival, Top Ten Audience Favorite at Hot Docs and won for Best New Director at the Brooklyn Film Festival.

See It In Theaters in New York and select cities across the country.  Click here to see where you can view it.

View the trailer here.