He’s only glimpsed briefly in Brooklyn Castle, Katie Dellamaggiore’s magnanimous look into the agonies and ecstasies of the country’s top-rated junior high chess team, but the specter of Bobby Fischer underlines a central point: Why not Brooklyn? At Midwood’s I.S. 318, where up is down, and the geeks have inherited the earth, Dellamaggiore follows several kids—including a garrulous junior politician, a sober prodigy, a spiky upstart, and an ambivalent girls’ champ (play is segregated for unspecified reasons)—as they prepare to uphold the school’s reputation. Like most kid competition docs, Brooklyn Castle explores the question of how and why certain kids succeed. A focus on the school’s dedicated teachers and administrators and the endangered funding they depend upon offers two strong suggestions. We also gain a keen sense of how chess in particular helps otherwise academically challenged kids find a way into their own brains. And yet a premium on a more conventional form of success emerges; struggling families mean pressure to lock into a high-earning career track. In the meantime, there is always the next game and its lessons; it seems both natural and a little sad that most of these kids only smile when there is a trophy in their hands.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 17, 2012