My sons are baseball players. Correction: They are baseball addicts. I’m not entirely sure where their passion for America’s pastime came from. I played one or two seasons of Little League growing up. We don’t watch a ton of baseball on TV. But my oldest, P.J., plugged right into baseball at the coach-pitch level, and his little brother, Brendan, is following in his footsteps (as little brothers are wont to do). They love it.
P.J. just wrapped a rough, rough season, though. He graduated to kid pitch this year, and the adjustment was complicated for a few of the eight year olds on his squad. They didn’t win a single game all season, though they showed significant improvement from their first contest to their last playoff game. P.J., in particular, really polished some of his natural skills. He hit very well all season, tried pitching, came into his own as a catcher, and emerged as a leader in the dugout. I couldn’t be more proud.
But losing really got him down, no matter how Michele and I tried to reinforce his strengths and perk him up. He needed a reminder of how hard one has to work to excel at competition. He needed to be reminded how competitors can learn important lessons in defeat, and how you’ll never improve unless you challenge yourself against superior opponents.
For these, and so many other reasons, Brooklyn Castle
came along at the perfect time.
Katie Dellamaggiore’s inspirational documentary spends a year in the company of the exquisite chess players of I.S. 318. The Brooklyn middle school has established a reputation for succeeding at national chess competitions. But the school faces unique challenges, and my sons really benefitted from learning about these kids and how they overcame adversity.
Your family should learn about them, as well. They are an amazing group of students. Role models, even. So, let’s sacrifice a pawn, protect our queen, and figure out when you can watch Brooklyn Castle with your kids.
Someone on staff describes I.S. 318’s chess team as “the New York Yankees of middle school chess.” It’s not a humble brag; it’s a fact, and one the faculty and student leaders at the school are proud to maintain. To be the best, you have to beat the best. At major national tournaments, the best usually comes from I.S. 318.
The problem facing these Yankees of the chess circuit is that they’re straddled with the budget of the Kansas City Royals. Right as Dellamaggiore settles in with the chess club’s leaders – the affable Pobo; the laser-focused Rochelle; Justus, the incredibly gifted transfer student – I.S. 318 learns of devastating citywide cuts that put afterschool programs (chess included) in jeopardy.
That’s one of several storylines tracked in the compelling Brooklyn Castle, a film flooded by so many Green Lights, I hardly know where to start.
My main focus has to be the kids of Brooklyn Castle, for they are the beating heart of Dellamaggiore’s fine doc. I call them role models. I can’t stress that enough in a time where teenagers get pregnant so MTV will hand them a reality program and our country cares an iota about something named Honey Boo Boo.
The leaders of I.S. 318 refer to themselves as “nerds,” but they mean it in the healthiest way possible. A historically derogatory term for a bookish student is celebrated in Castle, where the kids come from homes that emphasize studying as a means to excel in life, then attend schools that proudly pick up that education “ball” and keep running with it.
By extension, Brooklyn Castle hammers home the value of parents and teachers who participate in the daily life of an eager student. On the rare occasion that Dellamaggiore’s cameras follow the I.S. 318 kids home, we meet committed parents making great sacrifices so their children can get the best possible education. We spend time with educators willing to organize walk-a-thons to keep their talented chess players traveling to far-away tournaments. We see systems in place that challenge children who want to be challenged, and then reward kids who rise to those challenges and persevere.
We basically meet a group of kids you’d LOVE to see your own children hanging around.
My boys love Pobo, a charismatic leader on the 318 team who adopts the hilarious nickname “Pobama” when he runs for class president. But all of the kids in Brooklyn Castle are wonderful. They build each other up when they are competing, and are there for a supportive hug after a teammate scores a “draw” in a crucial match. They pep talk young Patrick, a struggling chess player whose lower scores matter in the finals. And they learn how to have “swagger,” even though they are playing a non-contact sport.
The other strength of Brooklyn Castle is that it opens our kids’ minds to the Royal Game. “Dad, how do you play chess?” our four-year-old asked as he sat, riveted, to Brooklyn Castle. (And now I have to study up on the rules of the game so I can help him learn how to play!)
P.J., meanwhile, watched with fascination as I.S. 318 chess players – some of the best in the nation – took losses hard, but bounced back to play again. The sour taste of his futile baseball season washed away as he marveled at the accomplishments of the chess players in this winning documentary. Check mate, indeed.
None. Not a single one. Brooklyn Castle is a near-flawless family-movie experience. Parents watching will reaffirm their efforts to provide the best possible educations for our children. Kids can brush up on – or become familiar with – an intelligent game of wits. You’ll meet kids who embrace their individual skills, celebrate being members of a successful team, thrive in a supportive environment and build character after losses.
OK, fine. There are a few bad words, yet far less than I expected from a group of middle schoolers. Perhaps Dellamaggiore kept the swears to a minimum, seeking a family-friendly edit. Maybe the kids at I.S. 318 simply don’t need such words in their vocabulary. But there are a few “sucks,” and one well-earned “bullshit” from Patrick as he expresses frustration after a loss.
The rest of Castle is a winning experience that should be enjoyed by the entire family. And so ….
As long as parents are watching Brooklyn Castle together with their children, there really is no age limit on when the clean-cut, kind-hearted and wildly inspirational documentary can be shared as a family.
We talked our four-year-old through some of what was happening, and the budget storyline went over our boys’ heads as they waited for the next chess tournament. P.J. kept pausing the DVD so he could read every title card, absorbing what was happening with these competitive kids, who he grew to cheer for.
The morning after we watched Brooklyn Castle together, we piled in the car and headed for Sunday church services. P.J.’s Kindle was in the backseat, and I told him he could turn it on so long as he found a game he and his brother could share.
“Let’s play chess, like those kids in the movie,” Brendan said.
I know we’ve started our boys down the right path, but it’s always encouraging to hear them take a few steps in the right direction on their own, as well.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.