We’re proud to have sponsored a screening of the fantastic documentary Brooklyn Castle for afterschool students at St. Nicks Alliance in Williamsburg. The film is nominated for an NAACP Image Award at tonight’s awards show, and it’ll be available on iTunes February 5. If you yourself haven’t yet seen the film, find a way to do so — and contact them about sponsoring more kids from public schools to attend screenings at independent theaters around Manhattan and surrounding boroughs.
Though she’s getting ready to give birth to a chess champ herself, director Katie DellaMaggiore answered some questions for us — including a couple from the St. Nicks crew themselves.
Were you an avid chess fan prior to filming, and if not, are you one now? And! Did you ever play against any of the students from IS318?
I wasn’t a chess player before we made the film and I still don’t consider myself a chess player after finishing the film either. My husband still enjoys kicking my butt every opportunity he gets. And I’m proud to say I finally got the nerve to play my first game against one of the kids recently. It was against Pobo, and he said I actually didn’t play so bad – so I’m pretty proud of that!
What moved you to make this film?
In 2007, I read a NYT article about Shawn Martinez, a talented chess player at Murrow High School in Midwood, Brooklyn, a neighborhood just a few minutes from where I grew up. I did some digging and found out that the feeder junior high school to Murrow was I.S. 318 and that not only had they won more national chess championships than any junior high school ever, but they were basically breaking down all the tired, negative stereotypes associated with inner city public schools. I was intrigued by the idea that the story defied expectations — people don’t expect a Title I school (more than 60% of the students are from low income households) in Brooklyn to have the number one chess team in the nation.
What was it like getting to know these kids? Do you still see each other?
In documenting the lives of our subjects trust was always our number one priority — we think the kids know they can come to us if they ever need advice or have a problem and that they can really trust us. We’re also always trying to find opportunities for them to prosper from the movie. Last summer Pobo got to speak at an afterschool conference on Capitol Hill. He did a stellar job, of course. We were able to connect Rochelle with an awesome summer job at a top law firm this summer. After four years of working on this film we’ve become a Brooklyn Castle family and we’ll likely be in each other’s lives for a long time.
Do you have plans to do any sort of follow-up documentary in a decade or two? How can we stay apprised of these kids’ lives and growth?
No plans for that yet, but it would be interesting to see something like that for sure. I mean, Pobo will most certainly be president one day, don’t you agree? We haven’t seen the last of him. He’s got a twitter account @pobama318 for anyone in need of a political advisor. Rochelle is off to Stanford, where she received a full scholarship. We’re invested in their success and we know that people that see the film feel the same way too, so we’ll keep you apprised.
What resources do you recommend to parents with kids in public school who would like to initiate this kind of program at their own school?
I.S. 318’s chess teacher Elizabeth Vicary has shared a guide for getting a chess program started in your school on our website. The Afterschool Alliance also has a ton of great resources on how to start an afterschool program. If you need help finding a volunteer you can reach out to two great organizations: Citizens in Schools and Community in Schools.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to have a baby, our first, any day now. Ask me in six months. Seriously though, we have a bunch of ideas cooking. Scott Rudin acquired the rights to remake the film into a Hollywood feature, so Brooklyn Castle could be coming again to a theater near you. Albeit, ‘based on a true story’…