Where Geeks Are Rock Stars: Documentary Spotlights an Urban School's Champion Chess Team

Posted by Liz Dwyer

Where's the best junior high school chess team in the nation? It's not at a private school or in some wealthy suburb. Instead, it’s at Brooklyn's Intermediate School 318, where the majority of students are low-income children of color. A new documentary called Brooklyn Castle follows members of the school's chess team for one year to show how the program has transformed the students and the entire school.

At I.S. 318, chess champions—not varsity athletes—are celebrities among their peers. The trailer above gives us a sneak peek at the incredible stories of the students on the team. Thirteen-year-old Rochelle, for example, is aiming to become the first black female chess master in the history of the game.

The film is a project of Rescued Media, a Brooklyn-based production company started by husband-wife filmmaking duo Katie and Nelson Dellamaggiore. The couple says that by featuring the five extraordinary teenagers, Brooklyn Castle serves as a "counterpoint to the tired notion that public schools—and public school students—can only fail." When budget cuts threatened to eliminate many of the I.S. 318’s most successful programs, including the chess program, the filmmakers decided to use the school's experience to represent that of countless schools where afterschool programs are on the chopping block despite boosting academic achievement and engagement.

In an effort to build national recognition of the I.S. 318 team and the challenges facing public schools, the Dellamaggiores are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to hold screenings of Brooklyn Castle across the country. They're also organizing tournaments at which the I.S. 318 students will go head-to-head against chess players at Harvard, Columbia, and the Google campus "so the kids realize those places are within their reach, and word gets out that public schools across the country are suffering from the crushing effects of budget cuts." The fundraising campaign ends tomorrow, so if you're inspired by the stories of Rochelle and her classmates and want future I.S. 318 students to have the same opportunities, now's your chance to pitch in for the cause.