In 2012, after its SXSW Film Festival premiere, Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin purchased remake rights to Brooklyn Castle, director Katie Dallamaggiore's feature-length documentary about I.S. 318, an inner-city public school that's home to the most winning junior high school chess team in the country. But a series of deep public school budget cuts threaten to undermine its hard-won success.
It's been announced today that Sony Pictures has set Will Reiser and Jonathan Levine to pen the feature film adaptation of Brooklyn Castle, which won the Audience Award at SXSW.
Reiser and Levine previously worked together on the Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Seth Rogen dramedy 50/50, as writer and director.
I screened the film at SXSW the year that it premiered there, and found it wonderfully touching, full inspirational stories of hope, ambition and perseverance.
In a climate in which "escape" film narratives of youth from working class families and under-represented groups - in this case, in Brooklyn Castle, specifically African American and Latino kids - are dominated by stories in which athletic ability is option number 1 as a means for that escape from socio-economic oppression, the intellectual tension-filled drama that plays out in Brooklyn Castle is most refreshing.
I was moved by the individual narratives of these pre-teen and teenage boys and girls from I.S. 318 (an inner-city school where an overwhelming number of students are from homes with incomes below the federal poverty level) who've invested and sacrificed so, so much to master their chess skills (some of them would rank above Albert Einstein if he were to join the school’s competition team), that you simply can't help but root for them to succeed and reach their individual goals, that range from just simply getting into good colleges in the short term, to running for president in the long term.
And you are absolutely convinced that they can and will achieve those aims, if only based on the academic aptitudes, confidence and conviction on display here from each.
Their parents, who've recognized, nourished and also sacrificed for their childrens' talents, are to be commended here as well for what should be obvious reasons.
4 years in the making, there's a broader narrative in Brooklyn Castle, and that is the economic crises that was started in 2007/2008, which led to unprecedented public school budget cuts that jeopardized primary school education, and, specifically, the after-school programs like that which is at the center of Brooklyn Castle's story, and how the potential absence of that necessary funding could drastically affect the lives of the children who rely so heavily on them for sustenance.
Watching the film’s 5 stars, ranging between 11 and 15 at the time, handle immense pressure (the kind of pressure that men and women decades older would likely be crushed under) and thrive, is exhilarating and inspiring.
They’re practically forced to mature much sooner than their peers, and, in my humble opinion, will likely go on to become leaders of tomorrow.
But they’re still very much children, and the wounds of a loss sting as it only could for a child; while the thrill of a win is felt just as deeply, which only reinforces for the audience the importance of I.S. 318’s after-school chess program, and others like it – vital for not only the students, but for the schools.
How exactly Sony plans to reimagine this as a scripted work of historical fiction, is unknown. I just hope that it isn't white-washed. The vast majority of the key kids followed in the documentary are either African American or Latino (in fact, as you can see in the image from the documentary above, only one of the 5 starring kids was white), and I'd expect the Sony film to reflect that.