Sunday, December 8, 2013

Brooklyn Castle Movie Review

I recently had the pleasure of watching Brooklyn Castle, one of the most delightful and moving documentaries that I have ever seen. It follows a group of students on the chess team of Intermediate School (I.S.) 318 in Brooklyn, which is perennially one of the best in the country, even though I.S. 318 is a public school where over 60% of families in the district are living below the poverty line. The New York Times review introduces us to the documentary's young subjects:
Rochelle Ballantyne dreams of being the first female African-American chess master; Alexis Paredes hopes to be a lawyer or doctor so he can ease the burdens of his immigrant parents. The dreadlocked newcomer, Justus Williams, might be a chess genius; Patrick Johnston, who has attention issues, just wants to raise his ranking. Pobo Efekoro helps his mother with her day care business.
Dovetailing with my last post, this film illustrates the importance of having caring adults involved in the lives of children and adolescents. Other reviews have highlighted the important roles that chess teacher Elizabeth Vicary and assistant principle John Galvin play in their students' lives, as well as how budget cuts threaten important programs like I.S. 318's chess team. Here, I would like to highlight another aspect of Brooklyn Castle that was striking to me, and that is the interaction between these students and their parents.

As a child psychiatry trainee, I attended multiple lectures on the importance of authoritative parenting, which refers to parents who have a warm relationship with their children but also set reasonable limits; who have high expectations and try to provide their children with the tools to succeed. The parts of this film that show the students interacting with their parents, while brief, are wonderful illustrations of the authoritative approach.

On more than one occasion, the film shows families sitting at a meal together having a conversation, which by itself is an important protective factor. Rochelle's mother repeatedly emphasizes the importance of her having an education. Alexis's mother reassures him that he does not have to find a job after high school, that he can go to college because that is why she and his father work so hard. She cries tears of joy when she finds out that Alexis had been accepted to a good high school. Pobo, who lost his father at a young age, shoulders his responsibilities at home without complaint. Patrick's mother acknowledges how hard things must be for him and participates in a fund drive to raise money for the chess team.

My favorite moment came when Justus lost a match and called his mother on the phone. He says hesitantly, "I lost a pawn, and then I just…fell apart after." She clearly hears how upset he is, and she validates what he is feeling, saying, "You're upset, right?" When he answers in the affirmative, she reassures him and encourages him to persevere: "Yeah, I can tell. That's ok. Just pick yourself up, it happened." She then says, "Boy, I feel down too I'm not gonna lie." She says this in such a way that is not blaming him for making her feel bad, but to share with him that she understands what he is feeling. This conversation, which lasts less than 30 seconds, can be used in a instructional video to show parents how they should approach their children who are upset.

As a whole, Brooklyn Castle is uplifting and joyous, but also a reminder of the dedication and effort that it takes to help children succeed. Just one last random nugget that I loved: where else are you going to see a kid rap about conquering his opponents in a chess match?