Brooklyn Castle | Black Harvest Film Festival
Thu Aug 23 2012
Nearly every year, the programmers of Black Harvest—Chicago’s annual, monthlong festival of films about black history and culture—book at least one title that makes a splash with audiences during its subsequent theatrical run. If there’s a breakout hit this year—a Being Elmo or a Trouble the Water—it’s probably Brooklyn Castle, the festival closer. Doing for budding Bobby Fischers what Louder than a Bomb did for up-and-coming slam poets, Katie Dellamaggiore’s festival-closing documentary peers inside a struggling NYC middle school whose chess team has won more national titles than any other junior high in the country. Among the team’s racially diverse roster, four leaders emerge; sticking doggedly to the competition-doc template, Dellamaggiore traces their parallel paths to the finals.
It’s easy to bemoan the movie’s formulaic, Spellbound-indebted construction, but hard not to get wrapped up in the plight of its subjects. While one contender gamely vies to become the first African-American female chess master, another copes with the anxiety of trying to hold onto his high ranking. Economic realities threaten to cut the team’s progress short; the students rack up victories as their proud principal does some strategizing of his own against the budget-slashing school board. What’s most endearing about Brooklyn Castle is the case it makes for chess itself—both as an extracurricular passion for at-risk teens and a concentration-building activity in a world of short attention spans.
Brooklyn Castle screens Sunday, August 26, at 3:15pm and Thursday, August 30, at 6:30pm at the Siskel Film Center.