SXSW Review: Brooklyn Castle

Adam’s take on the true-story doco about how chess changed an entire school.

SXSW: “Brooklyn Castle”

I am absolutely privileged to be writing about “Brooklyn Castle,” a documentary film by director Katie Dellamaggiore. I was lucky enough to see this fantastic film this morning at the Alama Drafthouse Ritz for its world premiere screening, cheering and applauding with tears (yes, human tears) in my eyes.

The film is about I.S. 318, an inner-city school where more than sixty-five percent of students are from homes with incomes below the federal poverty level.

It also has the most winning junior high school chess team in the nation, having cultivating many of the nation’s highest ranked players. Just to give you an idea of how incredible these young kids are at chess, if Albert Einstein, who was rated 1800, were to join the team he’d only rank fifth.

The film follows five students: Justus (6th Grade), Rochelle (8th Grade), Pobo (7th Grade), Alexis (7th Grade) and Patrick (7th Grade) as they travel across the country competing in chess tournaments in hopes of becoming national champions.

Amidst financial crises and unprecedented public school budget cuts, “Brooklyn Castle” is a cry for help – an intimate look at the importance of after-school programs and how they enrich the lives of students everywhere.

Beautifully directed by Dellamaggiore and edited by her husband, Nelson, “Brooklyn Castle” is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s so perfectly balanced, so clean in its telling of a story with multiple characters and many layers that it seems almost effortless, even though it took the husband-and-wife team three years to complete.

The kids are great – you’re constantly cheering for Justus, Rochelle, Alexis, Patrick and Pobo to suceed – to accomplish their goals and set their dreams in motion, and then there are their coaches, Vice Principal John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary, who fight against school budget cuts and try so hard to help their kids in any way they can.

You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this film. Being as SXSW is the world premiere, it’s no doubt that “Brooklyn Castle” will soon be invited to tons of major festivals and (fingers crossed) gets a theatrical release, because it’s a great work that deserves to be seen!

Bottom Line: A charming, heartfelt film that celebrates dreams and the kids chasing them.

And here’s the trailer if you’re interested in seeing more:


Brooklyn Castle Trailer from Rescued Media on Vimeo.

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