“Brooklyn Castle”, a documentary opening in NYC on Friday October 19, chronicles a year in the life of the chess team at Intermediate School (I.S.) 318, a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The I.S. 318 chess teams have won more chess championships over the past decade than any other school in the country. This statistic is even more impressive considering that seventy percent of the students at I.S. 318 live below the poverty line.
According to a recent article in the NY Daily News, found here, the five teammates prominently featured in the film do much to destroy common stereotypes about chess whizzes. “The biggest misconception about chess is that nerds and smart people are the only ones who can play”, explains team member Pobo Efekoro, one of the students prominently featured in the film. He continues, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter what color you are. Everything comes down to just you and another person, with 16 pieces on the board, trying to kill each other.” The team provides more than just an after school activities for the middle schoolers. “I consider the 318 team more of a family”, says Alexis Paredes, the team’s second best player. The coaches guide you through any problem that you have in chess, and they’re able to relate it to your life. I honestly don’t know where I would be right now without the team.” Also featured in the film is teammate Justus Williams, who GCP featured in a post last year as the youngest African American to achieve a master chess rating. (“Young Chess Masters”, November 13, 2011)
Over the course of the year, the team struggles with funding issues as the school’s budget cuts threaten its existence. But the I.S. 318 community stands behind the chess team and labors to get the funding reinstated. While the film focuses on the team’s success and touts a strong feel good message, film audiences will appreciate that public school funding for extra curricular activities like chess teams is in constant danger of being eliminated. As director Katie Dellamaggiore explains, “I want people to walk away with a smile on their face…but there are schools all over the country facing the same financial problems.” She hopes the film inspires people to support afterschool programs however they can.
Whether your son (or daughter) is a chess player, fan, or has yet to learn the game, sounds like “Brooklyn Castle” is worth seeing. Check out its Facebook page for more information on the film.