08/07/2012

New movie on school chess team holds critics in check

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Good things start in the fall, and one of them is the award-winning documentary "Brooklyn Castle," a film to be released this October that shows exactly what's right about public education. The movie examines the chess team at I.S. 318 in New York City, which has won more than two dozen national chess championships, including the high school nationals this year—the first middle school ever to do it, and a Title I school at that.

Rochelle at the chess board. Photo: Producers Distribution AgencyRochelle at the chess board.

Placed by critics in the first tier of this year's documentaries, "Brooklyn Castle" follows five students at different levels of skill and maturity: Rochelle, a 13-year-old who stands to become the first female African-American chess master; 12-year-old Alexis, who sees chess as his ticket to college; Pobo, a candidate for class president who's 12 going on 21 and calls himself "Pobama"; Patrick, an 11-year-old who uses chess to counteract his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and Justus, who at age 10 excels at chess but isn't so sure how he feels about competition.

The film's real heroine, though, is chess teacher and coach Elizabeth Spiegel, a member of the United Federation of Teachers who is brilliant both at chess and at understanding children on the cusp of puberty. Spiegel has powered her team to year upon year of championships at national scholastic chess competitions. Even more important, she shows her students how to consider all possibilities, take chances and build mental strength.

Watch the movie trailer.

Does she do this through a rigid selection process? Decidedly not. Any student can join, and hundreds have. "I'm a big believer that public school programs should be open to everybody," Spiegel told American Teacher last year. "We don't have tryouts or anything. Total beginners are welcome."

The film was previewed during movie night at the AFT convention in July. It provides a strong counterweight to those who have nothing good to say about public schools—and who see no harm in the rounds of deep funding cuts that undermine these children's opportunities to travel and compete. Katie Dellamaggiore, director of "Brooklyn Castle," documents not only the children's chess victories, but also their crusade on behalf of adequate funding for their school—something that no child should ever have to worry about.

The film opens in New York on Oct. 19; in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle on Oct. 26; in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2; and in Philadelphia on Nov. 9.

The film's producers are offering free tickets to public school teachers as a thank you for their support and hard work. The offer, which runs Oct. 26-Nov. 1, is available to teachers who show their ID or union card at the box office. Get the details.  [Annette Licitra/Photo courtesy of Producers Distribution Agency.]

October 15, 2012