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FDL Movie Night: Brooklyn Castle

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The chess club. For decades it’s been the butt of jokes like Woody Allen’s classic chestnut:

I failed to make the chess team because of my height.

But that has changed, thanks to the chess team at I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, their dedicated coach Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel, and principal Fred Rubino and assistant principal/chess coordinator John Glavin. At I.S. 318, the chess team is king, having won thirty national titles – more than any other junior high school in the United States. And in April of this year, the I.S. 318 chess team they became first junior high school team to become High School National Champions. And this with 70% of school’s students living below the Federal poverty line.

Brooklyn Castle, directed by tonight’s guest Katie Dellamaggiore, tells the story of five chess team members over the course of a year as they use the lessons of chess at tournaments and in their home lives, and finally to cope with disastrous budget cuts that threaten the chess team’s survival.

Given New York’s current disaster and recovery attempts from Hurricane Sandy, the future of the chess team and other “non-essential” classroom programs is precarious. But these programs get kids to school, expand their vision of the world around them, and give them hope. Chess-in-the-Schools notes that school attendance is at its highest on the days that chess class is held, and that students who study chess have better grades overall, as well as measurably higher emotional intelligence.

As the film’s subjects, Rochelle, Justus, Pobo, Alexis (Alex), and Patrick struggle with their own lives and work to bring home more wins for their school (and themselves). They demonstrate the advantages chess provides them, but also the difficulties that can come with losing, both in matches and in life. However, they always prove the axiom that every problem has a solution, if you just look for it.

The changes chess has wrought in Brooklyn Castle’s five subjects are clear, strong, profound, and moving.  The question now is how the changes after Hurricane Sandy will affect I.S. 318 and other school in New York City.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.