Film

Brooklyn Castle

Revenge of the nerds

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Intermediate School 318, a public middle school in Brooklyn, has an unusual distinction. Not only does it have a chess team, but the team also dominates national competitions the way UCLA used to dominate college basketball. It’s won 26 national chess titles. “In 318,” the school’s principal proudly says in Brooklyn Castle, “the geeks, they are the athletes.”

Katie Dellamaggiore’s lively and affecting documentary introduces us to a cast of characters that’s very winning (in both senses of the word). John Galvin, the assistant principal, has a Noo Yawk accent and savvy demeanor that’s part monsignor, part cop on the beat. Elizabeth Vicary, the coach, has the slightly otherworldly intensity (and underfed physique) of Patti Smith. “The total brains of the operation,” Galvin calls her. Vicary is as much an avatar of chess as Smith is of rock ’n’ roll. The biggest complaint about Brooklyn Castle is there’s not enough of her. A presence as magnetic as Vicary’s demands more screen time.

Even more compelling are the kids. Rochelle is on the verge of amassing enough points to become the first African-American female master—and she’s not yet in high school. Pobo, whose parents are Nigerian immigrants, wants to be president some day. One of the documentary’s subplots is Pobo’s campaign for school president. Alexis is like Pobo turned inside out: wiry, withdrawn, wary. Justus commutes all the way from the Bronx because of chess. A couple of years younger than Rochelle, he’s already amassed more points than she has. Patrick, the runt of the chess litter, has ADD.

What with so much high-powered talent in the program, it’s easy to overlook that school encourages participation from all.

We see at least three of the kids weep after a competition. The pressure’s that intense—and it’s easy to forget they’re barely in their teens. Trying to console one of them, Galvin says, “You’re harder on yourself than anyone else can be, right?”

Losing a match is only part of it. More than 70 percent of the student body is from families below the poverty line. The abilities chess encourages can help get them into one of New York’s examination high schools (dealing with the city’s Specialized High School Admission Test is another subplot), which can get them into a good college, and then a good job.

The documentary follows the team through the 2009-10 academic year. Because the school has been hit by severe budget cuts, the team has to cut back on travel (the year before, it went to the nationals in Dallas, and lost). Only Scrooge McDuck’s accountant could root against these kids. But it is striking to what extent the team travels (the climactic competition is in Minneapolis). If a middle school basketball team, say, had as much money spent on it, surely some eyebrows would be raised.

That’s in no way to detract from the amazing accomplishments—on many levels—of Vicary, Galvin, and their charges. But it does indicate one of the few shortcomings of Brooklyn Castle. Observation never becomes scrutiny. With such great material to observe, that’s understandable. Recognizing a gift horse (or knight, as the case might be), Dellamaggiore chooses not to look it in the mouth.

BTown
More Film...
LA 92
A cautionary tale

Often, documentaries about historic events prompt the question, “Why now?” Sadly, that will never be asked about Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin’s searing LA 92, which arrives on the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots to address an America more conscious than ever of the problems…

more »
Rumble
The Indians Who Rocked the World

In the fascinating documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, the great jazz critic Gary Giddins says, “The one group that hasn’t really been investigated in terms of their contribution [to music history] is the Native Americans.”

This new film, co-directed by Catherine…

more »
Blade Runner 2049
Man or replicant?

In 1982, when replicants hadn’t yet become a Hollywood business model, Blade Runner failed to do what Warner Brothers hoped it would: make a pile of money.

It succeeded, however, in acquiring the reputation of a modern science-fiction classic. Director Ridley Scott’s 2019-set story…

more »
Events
Today
Book Group Mixers

5:30pm|Village Books

Bringing history into sharp focus

10:00am

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

U.S. Citizenship Class

6:00pm|Lynden Library

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Summer Bike Stories

7:00pm|Cafe Velo

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Tomorrow
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Grand Opening and Open House

11:00am|Social Fabric

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Clean Eating

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Art Night

5:00pm|SpringHill Suites by Marriott

12 Minutes Max Auditions

5:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Amber Sky CD Release Party

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Upstream

7:00pm|Village Books

USA Dance

7:00pm|Majestic

Thriller Dance Class

7:00pm|Moles Farewell Tributes

Halloween Movie Night

7:00pm|BHS Performing Arts Center

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Holding the Light

8:00pm|Honey Moon

Trove Village Books
Saturday
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Terrell Creek

Scarecrow Stuffing Contest

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Landscape stewards work party

9:00am|Chuckanut Center

Pumpkins 4 Pajamas

9:00am|Lakeway Fred Meyer

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Pumpkin Patch on Rails

9:00am|Wickersham Station

Port race ponders a wasted waterfront

9:30am

Everyday Superheroes 5K

10:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Blaine Oktoberfest

10:00am|Blaine

Community Cider Pressing

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Enlightened Caterpillar

10:30am|Village Books

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Crown Jewel Wilderness

11:00am|Western Washington University Bookstore

Mushrooms gone wild

12:00pm

Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Conquering Writer's BLock

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Winter Birds of Whatcom County

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Undersea Bubble Fantasia

2:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Brew on the Slough

5:00pm|Maple Hall

Community Library Celebration

5:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Seeds of Change

6:30pm|Edison Granary

The Great Unconformity

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Symphony's Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Original Comedy Night

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

CWWarrenMiller Trove Bellingham Farmer’s Market Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1