Portrait of Five Students Reveals the Personal Struggles and Remarkable Program Behind Championships, Trophies and a School’s Special Pride
“If you want to see what may well be the most optimistic, inspiring and downright thrilling movie released
all year–then absolutely do not miss . . . Brooklyn Castle.”
—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
Brooklyn’s I.S. 318 junior high school fits one inner-city stereotype–a majority of its students come from below-the-poverty-line families. All other expectations, as shown in the new documentary Brooklyn Castle, should be checked at the door. Beginning in 2000, under the tutelage of chess teacher and coach Elizabeth Spiegel and assistant principal and chess coordinator John Galvin, I.S. 318 expanded its small chess program and began competing in national tournaments. For those keeping score, the results have been stunning: more than 30 national chess titles, including, in 2012, the U.S. High School National Championship, a first for a junior high.
Brooklyn Castle goes behind the scenes to reveal the inspirational effect of the chess team’s success on the entire student body. In achieving the improbable, the “chess nuts” of I.S. 318 are expanding the possibilities for themselves and for disadvantaged students like them. As they are quick to point out, if the late Albert Einstein, an avid chess player, were on this team, he would rank fourth.
Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on the award-winning PBS series POV (Point of View). The film is part of the new PBS INDIES SHOWCASE, a four-week series of independent documentaries airing on Monday nights from Sept. 30-Oct. 21. POV is the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Brooklyn Castle is dramatic illustration that extracurricular activities, as I.S. 318 principal Fred Rubino likes to points out, are not really “extra” at all, because they teach “the whole child.” Chess became an unlikely source of school pride and a catalyst for elevating the school’s academic achievement. In following the daily lives and competitive chess fortunes of five of the team’s members as they tour the country competing for team and individual points, the film captures the students’ sheer thrill of achievement. After all, if they can master the world’s most difficult game, what can’t they do? Brooklyn Castle is also a dramatic account of five young lives in-the-making, in which triumph at the chessboard comes with hard work and personal tribulation.
At 11, Justus Williams is a prodigy, already one of America’s highest-ranked young chess players. Yet he is plagued by a tendency to freeze, stymied by the expectations created by his success. In the opinion of many, 13-year-old Rochelle Ballantyne, who broke the gender line of what had been an all-boys chess club, has the potential to become the first African-American female master in the history of chess. But she excels in many fields, and she struggles to commit fully to chess. Twelve-year-old Pobo Efekoro is the big, boisterous, warm-hearted leader of the team. When the school’s budget for afterschool programs is cut, he runs for school president with the goal of mobilizing a student protest to get the cuts restored. He spends so much energy on these activities and looking after the emotional needs of teammates that his own playing begins to suffer.
Twelve-year-old Alexis Paredes‘ approach to chess is like his play–meditative and thoughtful. The second-ranked player at I.S. 318 (first-ranked is Rochelle), he sees chess as a way to an education and a lucrative career that will allow him to support his immigrant family. Though he appears calm, the shy youngster suffers from the strain of competition and the need to succeed. Eleven-year-old Patrick Johnston is a sensitive and low-rated beginner whose goals are modest compared to those of his teammates, yet they loom large for him. Afflicted with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Patrick has taken to chess to develop concentration and patience. During the year of filming, his immediate objective is to raise his ranking to a middle level. His struggle, in which he displays heartbreaking, nail-biting determination and is cheered on by the indefatigable Pobo, becomes as epic as that of any of the other players.
Because Patrick’s fight to raise his ranking to middle level involves a sense of personal achievement, it gets at the heart of what chess has done for I.S. 318. For these kids, chess is more than a game, and winning is more than a matter of trophies. Brooklyn Castle is a clear-eyed look at a school program that has made a huge difference to students. It is equally a celebration of youth’s determination to dream, if given the chance.
“I had always been interested in making a film about Brooklyn, but I wanted to tell a story that people didn’t expect,” says director Dellamaggiore. “We’re hoping, too, that the story in this film will make some lawmakers think twice before cutting funds for extracurricular activities from education budgets.”
Brooklyn Castle is a production of Rescued Media in association with Indelible Marks and Chicken and Egg Pictures. The film is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a national public media initiative made possible by CPB to identify and implement solutions to the dropout crisis and help parents and teachers keep students on the path to a successful future.
About the Filmmaker:
Katie Dellamaggiore, Director/Producer
Katie Dellamaggiore is a documentary producer and director whose work has appeared on MTV, A&E, HBO/Cinemax and VH1. She has held various production and outreach roles on award-winning documentaries, including 39 Pounds of Love, To Die in Jerusalem, 51 Birch Street and American Teen. Dellamaggiore co-produced After the Storm, a nonprofit theater and film project aimed at inspiring young people in post-Katrina New Orleans, and for A&E Classroom directed, produced and shot UR Life Online, which explored sexual solicitation and cyber bullying and received an Emmy nomination for single-camera editing. In 2010, she and her husband, Nelson Dellamaggiore, co-founded television and film production company Rescued Media. Brooklyn Castle is Katie Dellamaggiore’s feature directorial debut.
Director: Katie Dellamaggiore
Producers: Katie Dellamaggiore, Nelson Dellamaggiore, Brian Schulz
Executive Producers: Geoff Gibson, Robert McLellan, Judith Helfand, Wendy Ettinger,
Julie Parker Benello
Cinematographer: Brian Schulz
Editor: Nelson Dellamaggiore
Original Music: B. Satz for Le CASTLE Film Works
Running Time: 86:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producer: Simon Kilmurry
Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López
Vice President, Programming and Production: Chris White
Coordinating Producer: Andrew Catauro
- Awards and Festivals:
- Audience Award, SXSW Film Festival, 2012
- Audience Award, Newport Beach Film Festival, 2012
- Top Ten Audience Favorite, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, 2012
- Best New Director, Brooklyn International Film Festival, 2012
- Nominee, Outstanding Documentary, 44th NAACP Image Awards, 2012
PBS INDIES SHOWCASE
As part of its commitment to provide viewers with year-round access to the creative work of independent filmmakers, the PBS INDIES SHOWCASE is scheduled during the weeks between the seasons of the award-winning series POV and INDEPENDENT LENS and will feature films from both. While PBS features the work of independent filmmakers throughout the year, the SHOWCASE is designed to spotlight their work and increase audience visibility for this important genre.
American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen helps local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations–locally owned and operated–are an important resource in helping to address critical issues such as the dropout rate. More than 75 public radio and television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at-risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and beginning its 26th season on PBS in 2013, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 15 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. Visit www.pbs.org/pov.
POV Digital (www.pbs.org/pov)
POV’s award-winning website extends the life of our films online with interactive features, interviews, updates, video and educational content, plus listings for television broadcasts, community screenings and films available online. The POV Blog is a gathering place for documentary fans and filmmakers to discuss their favorite films and get the latest news.
POV Community Engagement and Education (www.pbs.org/pov/outreach)
POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 600 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
POV has the honor of receiving a 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the desJardins/Blachman Fund and public television viewers. Funding for POV’s Diverse Voices Project is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Special support provided by The Fledgling Fund and the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.