Katie Dellamaggiore ’00 directs Brooklyn Castle, a documentary following the triumphant path of champion chess students at an inner-city school.

by Carolyn Arnold, MBA’13

It seems like an unlikely tale: a belowthe- poverty-line inner city middle school in Brooklyn, New York, has won more national chess championships than any other school in the nation. Sound intriguing? It’s all revealed in the critically acclaimed Brooklyn Castle, a documentary directed by Katie Dellamaggiore ’00 through her production company, Rescue Media.

As a fellow Brooklyn native, Dellamaggiore was both surprised and proud when she heard that Brooklyn’s intermediate school I.S. 318 had the top number of chess championships. She had been looking for a compelling story for her new production company to undertake and when she discovered the school she jumped at the chance to meet them.

“That’s what caught my attention,” Dellamaggiore said. “I’m from Brooklyn and I had no idea that we were home to the best scholastic public school chess players. When you think of highachieving chess players, you think of a private school or suburban school. But the best are from a school in Brooklyn that has a high percentage of poverty.”

Dellamaggiore wanted people to know that I.S. 318 was defying expectations and was eager to tell their story in the best way she knew how – through film.

For her, documentaries are the best way to communicate real people’s stories. As a student at Fairfield, she soon found a way to develop her interest. “I knew I was interested in communication but wasn’t sure where that would lead — print, television, corporate communication, or public relations. Fairfield had all of that and it was close enough to the city so I could do an internship,” Dellamaggiore said. While a student, the communication major — who also had minors in film and Spanish — took part in Ham Channel productions and worked with the equipment available from the Media Center to put together short films. Rev. James Mayzik, S.J., associate professor of film, television, and media arts and director of the Media Center, was a huge influence on her work. “He put so much passion and commitment into that program and without him I don’t think it would exist,” she said.

One memorable assignment Dellamaggiore had was to put together short stories on seniors who were reflecting on their upcoming graduation. “I remember showing it to them after we edited it and they were emotional and tearing up,” she recalled. “When that happened I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I did that.’ I couldn’t believe that something that I made was affecting people so much. And that’s where I got my taste for documentaries.”

Left: Katie Dellamaggiore '00; Right: Promotional poster for Brooklyn Castle.

Left: Katie Dellamaggiore ’00; Right: Promotional poster for Brooklyn Castle.

After spending several years working at MTV (where she had also interned while a student) she decided to focus her energy on documentaries. “I really enjoyed working at MTV. There was lots of hands-on production work and it was fun, but more entertainment focused,” she said. “I was craving the long-form, deep storytelling experience so I began working with filmmakers on their projects.” Once she made the switch, Dellamaggiore worked on well-reviewed films such as To Die in Jerusalem, 39 Pounds of Love, and American Teen.

When she decided she wanted to tell the story of the chess club, Dellamaggiore reached out to the administration at I.S. 318 and received permission to interview students, teachers, and families; travel with the team; and basically follow the life of the school and its students. She and her production team, which consisted of her husband and business partner, Nelson (editor and producer) and her brother Brian Schultz (director of photography and producer), spent a year and a half filming and another year and a half editing. In that time, her team spent hours talking to the students and teachers, learning about their backgrounds, goals, and struggles. Another Fairfield alumnus, Neal Flaherty ’00 was a co-executive producer of the film.

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