It's easy to be judgmental of the public education systems across the country, what with news of budget cuts, terrible test scores, and teacher strikes happening all of the time. However, whereas some documentaries have chosen to focus on the negative aspects of public education, Brooklyn Castle instead focuses on a succes story buried within the crowded streets of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Castle follows the lives of five middle schoolers as they make their ascent up the national chess standings. The kids are all students at Intermediate School 138 (I.S. 138), an inner-city school in Brooklyn nationally known for their success in the chess circuits. However, the school's ability to compete in nationally-rated games and tournaments is severely threatened when the recession affects I.S. 138's after-school programs. Despite being set amidst financial uncertainty, Brooklyn Castle focuses solely on the main cast (Pobo, Rochelle, Alexis, Justus, and Patrick) as they not only rise up the rankings to become nationally recognized chess champions, but also prepare themselves for high school.
While the documentary dips into the personal lives of each student, it stays away from the paparazzi-esque scrutiny or magnification of their lives. Sure, it would have been an easy justification to put their socioeconomic backgrounds on bigger display than what is already touched upon. Instead, Dellamaggiore stays on track and illustrates the importance of chess in these students' lives.
Of course, the economy and nature of school budget cuts does come up, and it is interesting to see how Brooklyn Castle juxtaposes I.S. 138's financial disarray with what is basically these students' reliance on chess. The documentary does not get too political, but the subject matter is about how an after-school program serves not only to be these students' ticket towards selective high schools, but also college enrollment and scholarships.
Brooklyn Castle is an inspiring look at how a public school facing budget cuts and diminished support for its after-school programs can still persevere and help these students achieve their goals. More than anything, it highlights how important such extracurricular activities can be on a child's life.