'Brooklyn Castle' students seek solutions 'for every problem on the chessboard'
Justus Williams, left, is the youngest-ever African-American chess master, and is featured in the film "Brooklyn Castle."
July 19th, 2012
02:10 PM ET

'Brooklyn Castle' students seek solutions 'for every problem on the chessboard'

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) – Brooklyn's I.S. 318 chess team was the best, always ranked among the top in the game. Some of its young members were just looking for something to keep busy, but a few expected it would help them pay for college or reach chess master status early in their teens.

Katie Dellamaggiore was about to shoot a documentary about the inner city school's unlikely success when she heard from the principal.

“‘Katie, I have some bad news,’” she remembered assistant principal and chess coach John Galvin said. “‘The school got hit - we got hit with some really bad budget cuts. I don’t know if you can make your movie anymore. I don’t know if we’re going to nationals or any of that.’”

“'Are you serious? How is this possible? You guys are the best, how can you not have the money?'" Dellamaggiore said.

“We have no choice but to make this movie. This is the movie now.”

And make it they did: “Brooklyn Castle” will be released in theaters October 19, Producers Distribution Agency announced Thursday. The distribution initiative previously released three other films, including the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop." Theatrical release is a major feat for an independent documentary, but the film has already built buzz at festivals, including SXSW, where it won an audience award and was acquired for remake by Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin, and at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where it shared an audience award and at the Brooklyn Film Festival, where Dellamaggiore won the award for best new director.

The film follows the school's chess coaches, team members and some of its recent alumni as they face the complications of modern tweenhood, from attention deficit disorder, to school elections, to scholarship competition, to parents who work long hours, to parents who aren’t there at all.  Some try to win as individuals, some just want what's best for the team and some are trying to spare the program from budget cuts. Of course, this is chess – the sport of solving problems.

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Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor meets with students at an iCivics event in Washington, D.C.
July 19th, 2012
06:18 AM ET

Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) - The retired Supreme Court justice is all business as she walks into our meeting room.

But inside, she’s got the heart of an educator.

Of course, Sandra Day O’Connor will always be associated with her historic “first,” as the first woman justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Prior to that appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she also served as a judge and a state senator.

Since her retirement from the high court in 2006, she has found a new passion – civics education.

How did she decide to become a champion of that cause?  O’Connor says that in her last year on the bench, she was “very much aware of the major issues and debates” being brought before the high court.  There were lots of complaints about the decisions, she says, and many were directed at the judicial branch – with some blaming the justices for certain outcomes.

“As you analyzed it, it appeared to show in many cases that the concerns were misdirected:  There was a tendency to blame the courts for things that were really not a judicial matter,” she told CNN.

The solution to that misunderstanding, she believes, is civics education – a subject she notes has changed through the years.  She remembers her own schooling in El Paso, Texas, and how she learned about Texas government.  Civics knowledge was helpful to her later in life, O’Connor says, and she’s disappointed that today, many schools have stopped teaching the subject.

But she believes young people do have a desire to learn civics because they want to participate in their government, to change things and better their lives. “There is an increasing appreciation that we do need to know how our government works:  national, state and local,” says O’Connor. “And that this is part and parcel of the things that every young person wants to know because they want to have an effect.”
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