"Brooklyn Castle" and I.S. 318


I recently watched a very good documentary on chess.  “Brooklyn Castle” (originally called Chess Movie) is a 101-minute documentary about Intermediate School (I.S.) 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos, an inner-city public school in Williamsburg Brooklyn, New York, that has won more chess team events than any other junior high school chess team in the nation.  Hundreds of kids have learned how to play chess there, and become winners.    They have won over 26 national chess titles in the past 10 years. 


In April 2012, I.S. 318 won the National High School Chess Championship!  They won on tiebreak over Hunter College HS.  It was the first time a middle school won the national high school championships, with 318 teams competing.  Not bad for a Title I school where 87 percent of students are from homes with incomes below federal poverty line (less than $22,000 for a family of four).  They won both Junior High and High School championships in the same year and was featured on the July 2012 cover of Chess Life.


The documentary follows five of the school’s chess team members (Justus Williams, Patrick Johnston, Alexis Paredes, Rochelle Ballantyne, and Pobo Efekoro) for one year, and documents what happens to them, both at and away from the chessboard.  It is one of the best chess documentaries ever made, which may soon become a full feature Hollywood movie.


In 2011, Justus Williams became the youngest African-American Chess master ever at the age of 12.  At age 11, he was already rated over 2100 and was selected to join the USCF’s All-American scholastic team.  He is currently rating is 2349 and he is a Life Master.  His first rating in 2006 was 311.  The documentary follows his time at I.S. 318.  GM Maurice Ashley, the first and onl yAfrican-American grandmaster, makes an appearance in the film.


Patrick, who was in the 7th grade at I.S. 318 at the time, has an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  Chess helps him focus better with greater concentration and patience. 


7th grader Alexis, who wants to support his immigrant parents from South America, hopes that chess helps him gain entrance to one of the New York City’s top tier public high schools.   Alexis is currently rated 2054, peaking at 2104.


8th grader Rochelle was the only female on a team that always has been a boy’s club.  Her goal is to be the first African-American female master in the history of chess.  She went on to win the Girls Nationals and won a full chess scholarship to UT Dallas.  Rochelle’s current rating is 2039.


7th grader Pobo Efekoro (he calls himself Pobama) is not only a chess player, but campaigned to become president of his junior high school with the goal of restoring budget cuts that threaten to kill most of the after school programs, including chess.  His current rating is 1956.


The chess coaches are John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel.  They are committed to keeping their chess program alive, despite huge budget cuts.  Chess is one activity that has a proven record in improving students’ development.


John  Galvin is the assistant principal who have been at I.S. 318 for 17 years.  He is a veteran educator and dedicated chess coach that want to see his team win and the players be successful over the chess board and in life.


Full time chess teacher Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel (a rated expert and Woman FIDE master who has played in several U.S. women’s championships) has coached hundreds of kids.  In her first year at I.S. 318, she took a chess team of only 10 members and turned them into national champions.  She has now led the school that has more national chess titles than any junior high in the country.  She is one of the most dedicated and inspiring chess instructors in the nation, as good as Bruce Pandolfini.  Her chess blog is at http://lizzyknowsall.blogspot.ca/


Fortunato (Fred) Rubino (1955-2012) was the principal of I.S. 318.  He had been there for 25 years and knew how an afterschool program such as chess can turn a school around.  He was determined to keep I.S. 318’s school programs intact, despite major budget cuts of over $1 million, which began after the 2008 financial meltdown.  Fred died suddenly of a heart attack on April 2, 2012.


The film crew followed the chess players to Dallas, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Saratoga Springs, New York as they played in state and national championships.


The documentary has already won several awards, which opened on June 1st in Brooklyn to a sold-out crowd.  It was the winner of the Audience Award in the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film 2012 Documentary Spotlight, the winner of the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival 2012, and one of the Top 10 Audience Favorites (out of nearly 200 films) at the Hot Docs Canadian Documentary Festival 2012.  It also won the Best New Director Award at the 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival.


The film was directed and produced by Katie Dellamaggiore, whose work has appeared on MTV, A&E, HBO/Cinemax, and VH1.  Her husband, editor and producer Nelson Dellamaggiore, is a three-time Emmy Award Nominee.  Both had been working on this documentary for over four years, starting in 2007.  The director of photography is Brian Schulz, a three-time New York Emmy Award winning cinematographer.  Kali Holloway is the Outreach Director for Brooklyn Castle.  Robert McLellan is the executive producer and Neal Flaherty is the co-executive producer.


The movie was funded with the assistance of Kickstarter, IFP Independent Film Week 2010, Chicken & Egg Flms, and the Fledgling Fund.  $5,000 was also donated by Elliott Neff of Chess4Life.com and Raphael Neff of Chesshouse.com.


Recently, Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin purchased the remake rights to Brooklyn Castle.  Producers Distribution Agency (PDA) will release “Brooklyn Castle” in theaters on October 9, 2012.


For more information on Brooklyn Castle, check out their web site at http://www.brooklyncastle.com.


A review of Brooklyn Castler from Variety can be found here http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117947261/


An SXSW review and trailer of the film can be found here http://moviehole.net/201253234sxsw-review-brooklyn-castle


To see an interview of producers Katie and Nelson Dellamaggiore about their documentary, see http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rescuedmedia/finishing-brooklyn-castle-formerly-chess-movie


The team was featured in the New York Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn-power-company-donates-25-000-needy-318-chess-team-article-1.986212


I.S. 318 was recently featured in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/nyregion/at-brooklyns-is-318-the-cool-kids-are-the-chess-champs.html?pagewanted=all


Here is a good YouTube video about the film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz8caOE3hCU








  • 3 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    I had a sales manager years ago used to say be concise your blog lost me a few paragraphs down just to long but i did see a movie a good few years ago about a group of kids from a poor area in the states and a teacher got them involved in chess and they won some big competition I wonder is this a different movie 

  • 4 years ago



    Did she have a British accent and red hair?  If she did, then it was Elizabeth.  Use Google images and look up Vicary to see a picture of her (she recently got married).  And yes, 2349 and climbing for Justus and his rating at age 12.  Bobby Fischer was only 1726 at age 12, and 2147 at age 13.  But at 14, he was US champion and 2605!

  • 4 years ago


    A 12-13 year old rated over 2300!  Incredible!  I will most likely never reach that mark in my adulthood.  Chess is a very humbling sport.  

  • 4 years ago


    Years ago, I met this Russian Master, John Eaton from the Manhattan Chess Club. He used to teach chess in schools and had a women assistant. I wonder if this was Elizabeth. Great post, keep up the good work.

    Your Friend, BK 

    PS that's BK for Black__Knight, not Brooklyn Wink

  • 4 years ago


    Sounds like a good documentary

  • 4 years ago


    Ace blog! Informative, moving, and complete. A must see movie for anyone reading this.

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for the info!  Maybe a coincidence; but, I just watched In Search of Bobby Fischer on television today.

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