I like chess. I’ve been known to play it, and I own a couple of novelty sets, a Harry Potter one and a Lord of the Rings one, but these kids would mop the floor with me in moments… I’m not an extremely skilled player, but I do enjoy it.
The documentary, brought to us by director Katie Dellamaggiore, brings us to I.S. 318, a junior high in Brooklyn that has consistently and constantly turned out national chess champions. Smart and engaging students, who have embraced the world of chess, bringing it to a competitive level in their school to rival the more traditionally celebrated sports like football.
This arts and sciences school fosters a positive, learning environment and works to send their kids to compete across the country.
The students the film follows are warm and honest, reveling in one another’s wins, and supporting one another in their losses. There is the charming de facto leader Pobo, who is a morale booster, supporter of everything and everyone on his team, picks them up when they get knocked down, and coaches and consuls where he’s needed.
Rochelle is one of the lone girls in the school’s chess club, and is also the highest rated player, well on her way to achieving the rank of master, planning to be the first African-American female to do so.
Justus wakes at 5:30 in the morning to catch the cross-town train to get to the school, a natural chess talent, who’s learning to deal with the expectations he has, as well as those around him.
Alexis’ parents moved to the States from South America to ensure that he and his older brother got a chance at all the things they never had. A thoughtful chess player he is worried about his game and hoping to get into a top-tier high school to make something of himself.
Finally there’s Patrick, a struggling player who wants to be a better player, but suffers from an attention disorder. He sees the game as a way to improve his concentration, but just can’t get a win under his belt.
All of their lives are threatened to come to a crashing halt when the recession hits, and school programs start getting slashed everywhere.
The film, while focusing on chess makes a poignant argument for after-school programs, and the need for arts, music and theater in schools. Pobo says it best in a letter, saying that schools should never have their budgets cut, and I have to agree, of all the things we need, we need more for the future.
By not giving our youth the best education, the most well-rounded education, not just in maths and sciences but also the arts , then we are dooming not just them, but society to denigrate into something unrecognizable from the illustrious concepts we have of ourselves, and the dreams we have for our children.
And in this case, it was all in the name of greed.
You hope and cheer with these kids, you empathize with their feelings, and suffer with them when they fall. In them we see all that can be, and one can’t help but ask why anyone would want to deny them that potential…
(It also makes me want to dig out my chess sets)
Brooklyn Castle can be seen Sunday, April 29th at the Cumberland Theater at 6:30pm, Tuesday May 1 at the ROM at 9:00pm and Saturday, May 5 at the Regent at 1:15pm.