Film Capsule: Brooklyn Castle

“At 318, the geeks … they are the athletes.”

So says Fortunato Rubino, late principal of a popular intermediate school in Brooklyn that has won 26 national chess championships (and counting) over the past 15 years.

Impressive, no? Perhaps even more so once you consider 70-75% of the families that send their kids to 318 live at or below the poverty line … the overwhelming majority of those students also hailing from minority households.

Yet, none of that seems to matter at 318 – a place where up is down, black is white, and the guiding principle is based upon providing underprivileged kids with the same opportunities “whether they can afford those opportunities or not.”

Chief among those opportunities: the chance to excel at a game of depth and skill like chess. Chess is to Intermediate School 318 as football is to Permian High. Yet, unlike football in Odessa, Texas, the intermediate chess program at Intermediate School 318 is in constant danger of extinction. Economic constraints have forced strict budget cuts at the school every year since 2007, and – given the high-cost, low-yield reality of chess programs in general, there are ongoing discussions about whether or not to cut the program.

Most of the students highlighted in Brooklyn Castle are members of 318’s 2009-2010 chess team. Among them: a handful of returning champions, a 12-year old national master, a class president with White House aspirations, and a recent graduate named Rochelle who has an opportunity to become the youngest African-American female master in history.

Believe me when I tell you these kids will break your beating heart. Their story is remarkable, their perseverance is astounding, and their camaraderie …. well, let’s just say the camaraderie these kids share may very well be the most inspiring thing you’re likely to see all year. By the end of this film, audiences will find themselves wishing they could do something – anything, really – half as passionately as these young kids play chess.

Do yourself a favor: Go see this movie. Brooklyn Castle is one of the top 10 films of the year – a rare gem that is just as important as it is entertaining. Highly recommended.

(Brooklyn Castle opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles today, with a staggered release scheduled for several other major cities throughout the next few months. For a full list of dates and theaters, click here.)