Classic Movie Review: Brooklyn Castle (2012)

Posted: June 9, 2013 in Documentary

brooklyn castle

I.S. 318 is a public school in Brooklyn New York. The school serves mostly poor kids, most kids who attend the school are 75% below the poverty level.  What makes the school special is that IS 318 has an exceptional chess program.  The school just came in 2nd in the National Chess championship in 2009.  The Junior High team is loaded with good player, there is Rochelle Ballantyne, who is on a quest to become the first female African-American female chess master.  Pobo Effekoro is a really good chess player who has big political plans, in 2010, he’s running for class president, in 2034 he wants to be president of the United States.  Alexis is a great Latino chess player whose parents only want better for him than they have for themselves.  Justus is another African American kid who has almost achieved master level before he gets to IS 318, and he transfers from the Bronx, to achieve his goal. Patrick is a kid who suffers from ADHD, and uses chess to improve his concentration.

Superimposed on all these stellar achievements are the budget cuts that IS 318 is facing as a result of the 2009 financial crisis.  Teachers like John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary and principal Fred Rubino organize e-mail campaigns and fundraising events to fend off the impending budget cuts.  How do the kids from I.S. 318 do in the state tournament and the national tournament?

I have seen a lot of documentaries, but this is now my favorite documentary ever.  I love this documentary because I love chess, and because I’m sick of hearing that poor kids can’t achieve high standards, or public schools can’t hold kids to high standards.  This movie disproves the conventional wisdom on both counts, these children do well in chess and so they do well in school.  This movie speaks volumes about the need for programs like chess or music or band so often derided in some circles and seemingly the first programs to be cut.  This movie ends for once and hopefully for all the myth that poor parents don’t get involved in their kids schooling.  These are the most involved parents I’ve ever seen, and their kids don’t ever want to let their parents down.  I implore you to watch this movie, it will change you.  It has changed me.  It is uplifting in a real, honest way without being syrupy sweet or preachy.

Brooklyn Castle:  Kings and Queens of the castle.


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