Directed by KATIE DELLAMAGGIORE
BROOKLYN CASTLE tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. The film follows the challenges these kids face in their personal lives as well as on the chessboard, and is as much about the sting of their losses as it is about the anticipation of their victories. Ironically, the biggest obstacle thrust upon them arises not from other competitors but from austerity measures cutting all the extracurricular activities at their school. BROOKLYN CASTLE shows how these kids’ dedication to chess magnifies their belief in what is possible for their lives. After all, if they can master the world’s most difficult game, what can’t they do?
BROOKLYN CASTLE is driven by the compelling personalities of its characters: 11-year-old prodigy Justus is already one of America’s highest-rated young chess players, and yet he often chokes, stymied by the expectations of others and his uncompromising belief in his destiny; Rochelle has the potential to become the first African-American female master in the history of chess, but she struggles to find the balance between chess and academic success; charismatic leader Pobo caters to the emotional needs of his teammates, often at the expense of his own playing; shy Alexis, second-ranked in the school, sees chess as a way to get a better education and job to support his immigrant family; and Patrick, a sensitive beginner who is determined to use his modest goal of raising his chess ranking as a means to rise above his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The triumphs of the team can be credited in large part to the brilliant chess teacher /coach Elizabeth Spiegel and chess coordinator John Galvin, but nothing would matter without the passion and time commitment the players bring to their study of the game. The aspirations of the players are put in jeopardy by the financial crisis. The budget is cut by more than a million dollars and they face the possibility that they will not have the money to attend tournaments they would probably win. The budget cuts are another difficult battle that school and the team must fight, but the players have learned through playing chess that every problem has a solution if you are willing to work hard enough to find it.
As Patrick’s story vividly demonstrates, programs like the chess team can be an indispensable way to open the door for all kinds of learning. For Justus, Patrick, Rochelle, Pobo and Alexis, chess is more than a game: it is a realm where they can transcend their reality and become kings and queens themselves. BROOKLYN CASTLE celebrates the hard work and determination that fires these young people’s pursuit of their dreams.