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Story of inner-city junior high school's champion chess team, Oct. 7 on PBS
Published:
9/13/2013 8:01:25 PM


I.S. 318 Chess Champions. Credit: Producers Distribution Agency.
 

“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

This public-school powerhouse in junior high chess competitions has won more than 30 national championships, the most of any school in the country. Its 85-member squad boasts so many strong players that the late Albert Einstein, a dedicated chess maven, would rank fourth if he were on the team. Most astoundingly, I.S. 318 is a Brooklyn school that serves mostly minority students from families living below the poverty line. Brooklyn Castle is the exhilarating story of five of the school’s aspiring young players and how chess became the school’s unlikely inspiration for academic success.

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 documentary series POV (Point of View). The film will stream on POV’s website, www.pbs.org/brooklyncastle, from Oct. 8- Nov. 6, 2013. 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.

The late I.S. principal Fred Rubino pointed out that extracurricular activities are not really “extra,” because they teach “the whole child.” Beginning in 2000, under the tutelage of chess teacher and coach Elizabeth Spiegel and assistant principal John Galvin, the school expanded its small chess program and began competing in national tournaments. The results have been stunning: more than 30 national chess titles, including the 2012 U.S. High School National Championship, a first for a junior high.

Meet the students:
--Justus Williams, 11 years old, 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.
--Thirteen-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. She is the first-ranked player in the school.
--Pobo Efekoro, 12, 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.
--Twelve-year-old Alexis Paredes’ approach to chess is like his play—meditative and thoughtful. The second-ranked player at I.S. 318, he sees chess as a way to an education and a lucrative career that will allow him to support his Paraguayan immigrant family.
--Patrick Johnston, 11, is a sensitive beginner who wants to raise his ranking to middle level. He has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has taken to chess to develop concentration and patience.

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 Dellamaggiore. “We’re hoping, too, that the story in this film will make some lawmakers think twice before cutting funds for extracurricular activities.”

About 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.

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.

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