You wouldn’t think a documentary about kids playing chess would be quite so compelling, but Brooklyn Castle is an exemplary little advocacy documentary that is gripping, funny, satisfying, and asks some very timely social questions. The film begins by introducing us to Intermediate School 318 and its legacy of chess championship wins, and then to some individual kids who are part of the current team. Some of these include 6th and 7th graders that are on the cusp of having master-level rankings, and are well past the rankings of some famous players like Einstein.

This heart-warming introduction is quickly splashed with cold water once the economic crisis hits and the NY school system is yoked by a series of large budget cuts which begin to put a strain on I.S. 318’s ability to support its chess team’s training and travels. We also get a broader view of the challenges and stresses of being a NY student, where performance on a single test on a single day in 7th grade can largely determine your educational course for the subsequent decade. Everything is captured beautifully, with the music and motion graphics both up to the standards of a sophisticated, contemporary feature-documentary. From the kids, to the presentation of the chess tournaments, to capturing the community activism efforts, Brooklyn Castle is an beautiful and thorough documentary that convincingly makes the case that it is not our school’s children that should suffer when times are tough.

It will also make you want to break out your chess set.

–Renn Brown

Brooklyn Castle Details:

Director: Katie Dellamaggiore

Brooklyn Castle is a documentary about I.S. 318 – an inner-city school where more than 65 percent of students are from homes with incomes below the federal poverty level – that also happens to have the best, most winning junior high school chess team in the country. (If Albert Einstein, who was rated 1800, were to join the team, he’d only rank fifth best.) Chess has transformed the school from one cited in 2003 as a “school in need of improvement” to one of New York City’s best. But a series of recession-driven public school budget cuts now threaten to undermine those hard-won successes.