Film Review: Charming Doc ‘Brooklyn Castle’ Celebrates Young Chess Champions

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CHICAGO – One of the greatest casualties of America’s economic crisis is the extracurricular activities at high schools and middle schools. Whereas the primary subjects fill students’ heads with knowledge, after-school programs provide them with a place to apply it. It’s in the hours following the standard daily curriculum where much of the learning and growing takes place. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

That’s certainly true of the chess team at Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318. Many of these students live below the poverty line, but their challenging circumstances haven’t prevented their intellects from soaring. Under the tutelage of teacher Elizabeth Spiegel and assistant principal John Galvin, these supremely gifted kids have garnered more championships than any other middle school in the country. At the ages of 11, 12 and 13, these students are routinely demolishing their competition, which includes players in high school.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Brooklyn Castle” in our reviews section.

One of documentarian Katie Dellamaggiore’s many strengths is her refusal to sugar-coat the legacy of her extraordinary subjects. Her film, “Brooklyn Castle,” devotes equal amounts of screen time to the failures as well as the successes of the I.S. 318 chess team, as the sudden sting of loss temporarily derails the students’ otherwise peerless concentration. 11-year-old Justus Williams is a chess prodigy who struggles with the stress of enormous expectations. When he momentarily struggles during a game, it’s difficult for him to get back on track. Galvin attempts to boost the boy’s confidence level by teaching him the meaning of “swagger,” but doesn’t mince words when informing him that “we’re all relying on you.” It initially seems as if Dellamaggiore’s presence may be having an adverse effect on the proceedings, but it’s not long before Justus and his teammates manage to bring home their latest slew of trophies. Nearly stealing the show is 12-year-old Pobo Efekoro, who could likely teach a master class in swagger. While running for class president, Pobo dubs himself, “Pobama,” yet his popularity hasn’t caused him to ignore his more introverted peers, such as 11-year-old Patrick Johnston. Though his battles with ADHD are a constant obstacle in his educational life, the chess team’s embracement of students with various skill bases allows Patrick to compete (Pobo serves as his mentor).

‘Brooklyn Castle’ stars Pobo Efekoro, Rochelle Ballantyne, Alexis Paredes, Justus Williams, Patrick Johnston, Elizabeth Spiegel, John Galvin and Fred Rubino. It was directed by Katie Dellamaggiore. It was released November 2nd at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. It is rated PG.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Brooklyn Castle” review.

The I.S. 318 chess team practices on the way to its latest competition in Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle.
The I.S. 318 chess team practices on the way to its latest competition in Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle.
Photo credit: PDA

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