The I.S. 318 chess team as seen in BROOKLYN CASTLE, a film by Katie Dellamaggiore. Picture courtesy Producers Distribution Agency. All rights reserved.
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Brooklyn Castle (2012)
Opened: 10/19/2012 Limited
|Lincoln Ctr/NYC||10/19/2012 - 10/25/2012||7 days|
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: PG for some language.
Imagine a school where the cool kids are the chess team...Welcome to I.S. 318
BROOKLYN CASTLE is the remarkable and improbable true story of I.S. 318 in Brooklyn; defying stereotypes, it has the highest ranked junior high chess team in the nation.
BROOKLYN CASTLE tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. The film follows the challenges these kids face in their personal lives as well as on the chessboard, and is as much about the sting of their losses as it is about the anticipation of their victories. Ironically, the biggest obstacle thrust upon them arises not from other competitors but from recessionary budget cuts to all the extracurricular activities at their school. BROOKLYN CASTLE shows how these kids' dedication to chess magnifies their belief in what is possible for their lives. After all, if they can master the world's most difficult game, what can't they do?
BROOKLYN CASTLE is driven by the compelling personalities of its characters: 11-year-old prodigy Justus is already one of America's highest-rated young chess players, and yet he often chokes, stymied by the expectations of others and his uncompromising belief in his destiny; Rochelle has the potential to become the first African-American female master in the history of chess, but she struggles to find the balance between chess and academic success; charismatic leader Pobo caters to the emotional needs of his teammates, often at the expense of his own playing; shy Alexis, second-ranked in the school, sees chess as a way to get a better education and job to support his immigrant family; and Patrick, a sensitive beginner who is determined to use his modest goal of raising his chess ranking as a means to rise above his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The triumphs of the team can be credited in large part to the brilliant chess teacher /coach Elizabeth Spiegel and chess coordinator John Galvin, as well as the support and encouragement from their parents, but nothing would matter without the passion and time commitment the players bring to their study of the game. And while repeatedly winning is exhilarating, the team's victories go beyond a room full of trophies--through chess they learn patience and long-term planning, and the importance of analyzing the wrong or right decisions they make after the game. In essence, chess provides skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, regardless of what profession they choose.
The aspirations of the players are put in jeopardy by the financial crisis. The budget for their Brooklyn school, I.S. 318, is cut by more than a million dollars and they face the possibility that they will not have the money to attend tournaments they would probably win. The budget cuts are another difficult battle that school and the team must fight, but the players have learned through playing chess that every problem has a solution if you are willing to work hard enough to find it.
Through the inspirational stories of its characters, BROOKLYN CASTLE illustrates that the "extra" in extracurricular activities are not "extra"--they are essential to the teaching of what Principal Rubino calls "the whole child." As Patrick's story vividly demonstrates, programs like the chess team can be an indispensible way to open the door for all kinds of learning. For Justus, Patrick, Rochelle, Pobo and Alexis, chess is more than a game: it is a realm where they can transcend their reality and become kings and queens themselves. BROOKLYN CASTLE celebrates the hard work and determination that fires these young people's pursuit of their dreams.
About the Team
The I.S. 318 chess team currently has 85 members and has won thirty national championship chess titles--more than any other junior high school in the country. If Albert Einstein, whose skill level probably was around 1800, was to join the team, he'd only rank fourth.
In April of 2012 they became first junior high school team to become High School National Champions. They were honored in a ceremony with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and their triumph was featured on the front page of The New York Times.
About the Players
Justus Williams (11, 6th Grade)
Possessing a natural gift for chess, Justus is a rising star in the scholastic chess world. At just 11 years old, he is already rated 2100 and has been selected to join the United States Chess Federation's esteemed All-American team -- one of the highest national honors attainable by a young chess player. Justus struggles with the unwanted attention his immense talent commands, as well as the sky-high expectations it raises.
Rochelle Ballantyne (13, 8th Grade)
Having found chess at I.S. 318 to be a boy's club, Rochelle was driven to prove she could not only be a formidable opponent against her male peers, she could outdo them. Three years later, she became the highest-rated player at the school, with the potential to become the first African-American female Master in the history of chess. But her world has changed since she began high school, and she isn't sure that she can do her best academically while also devoting a large part of her week to the study of chess.
Pobo Efekoro (12, 7th Grade)
A charismatic student and natural politician, Pobo emerges as a big brother figure and leader to the other chess team members. Dubbing himself "Pobama," the ambitious 12-year-old mounts a campaign to become president of the school, with the goal of restoring budget cuts that threaten I.S. 318's afterschool programs, including chess. Driven by the memory of his late father, Pobo confronts challenges with a single-minded focus on success, teamwork and character.
Alexis Paredes (12, 7th Grade)
A meditative, thoughtful chess player, Alexis is the number two- rated member of the I.S. 318 team. He sees chess, and entrance to one to New York City's top tier public high schools, as the first step on the road to a promising career that will allow him to support his immigrant parents. But getting into a great school is based on the result of a single exam, and Alexis suffers under the strain of pressure from both outside and within.
Patrick Johnston (11, 7th grade)
For Patrick, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, chess is more than a game; he sees it as a way to learn focus, concentration and patience. While he is almost the lowest-rated player on the team, he has set himself the modest goal of raising his ranking to a middle level. In his devotion to his task he displays impressive diligence as well as a bracing determination: Patrick won't be satisfied with a lesson about the importance of trying his best; Patrick wants to win.
I.S. 318 Staff
Elizabeth Spiegel (Coach/Chess Teacher)
Born in the UK, Spiegel (nee Vicary) moved to the US at age seven. She started playing in junior high school and played competitively through her college years. After college she took a number of jobs unrelated to chess, including writing encyclopedia articles and working as the assistant to a Jordanian princess. She began teaching at I.S. 318 under the auspices of the non-profit Chess-in-the-Schools, and taught additional advanced classes there as a volunteer. In 2006, she completed her Masters in education and was hired by the school to be their full time chess teacher. Her teaching methods combine intensive analysis of the players' own games with problem-solving, openings, endgames, and strategy.
Spiegel writes a blog about her life and work as the I.S. 318 chess coach.
John Galvin (Assistant Principal/Chess Coordinator)
Now in his 17th year at I.S. 318, Galvin is a veteran educator, dedicated chess coordinator and firm adherent of the notion that talent and hard work lead to success. He's tough but supportive and his high expectations have led to the culture of success that pervades I.S. 318. When the Wall Street financial crisis begins to impact the school, he mounted a community-wide campaign to push against funding cuts, and employed budgetary wizardry to save vital afterschool programs at I.S. 318.
Fred Rubino (Principal)
In Principal Rubino's 25 years at I.S. 318 he's witnessed how high-quality after school programs can turn a school around, and it's made him a fierce defender of the school's innovative activities. Deeply committed to his students, he faces budget cuts with dogged determination to keep I.S. 318's programs intact, and ensure every student has access to the resources they needed to excel.
About the Filmmakers
Katie Dellamaggiore (Director/Producer)
Katie 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. Katie co-produced After the Storm, a nonprofit theater and film project that used art to revitalize the lives of young people in post-Katrina New Orleans, and directed, produced and shot "UR Life Online" for A&E Classroom, which explored sexual solicitation and cyber bullying and received an Emmy nomination for Single Camera Editing. In 2010, she and her husband, Nelson, co-founded television and film production company Rescued Media. BROOKLYN CASTLE, Katie's feature directorial debut, has received support from IFP Independent Film Week, Chicken & Egg Pictures, The Fledgling Fund, and Britdoc's The Good Pitch.
Nelson Dellamaggiore (Editor/Producer)
Nelson is a three-time Emmy Award Nominee in the field of editing, most notably for Single Camera Editing on A&E's "UR Life Online," directed, produced and shot by Katie Dellamaggiore. He was also nominated for his work on "Super Bowl XLI" as well as the "Wizard at 95" for ESPN. He's worked on a wide variety of formats, from Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" to MTV's "TRL" to "The Tony Awards" and even "The Beijing Olympic Games." Nelson is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.
Brian Schulz (Director of Photography/Producer)
Brian is a three-time New York Emmy Award winning cinematographer for Major League Baseball Productions. As one of MLB's lead cinematographers he is dispatched across the country to capture the game's most dramatic images. A veteran of numerous All Star games and World Series his creativity behind the film and HD camera can be found in network promos and specials, World Series DVDs and the EMMY winning YES Yankeeography series. Brian is a graduate of the University of Connecticut.
Robert McLellan (Executive Producer)
Robert is a senior marketing professional whose clients have included top 10 recording artists and major record labels as well as publishers, film studios, Internet companies and advertising agencies. He has worked on campaigns for Michael Jackson, the NFL and Fortune 500 companies including Pepsi, Sony, Ford and Toyota. Robert is currently the marketing director for the United States Chess Federation.
Neal Flaherty (Co-Executive Producer)
Neal has been working in music, television and feature films for more than 10 years. He began his career as an assistant to then Chairman, CEO, COO and President of Sony Music Worldwide, Tommy Mottola. After two years at Sony, Flaherty began working in television for Spike TV and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He then transitioned into the world of feature films, working for production companies LivePlanet and Benderspink. Flaherty worked on THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, AMERICAN WEDDING, MONSTER IN LAW, RED EYE, JUST FRIENDS and Golden Globe Best Picture nominee A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. He is attached to producing and selling scripts to Dreamworks, Paramount, Dark Castle, Bold, and Lionsgate.