Family Movies for the Homebound: Part III — A Special List of Movies About Kids Playing Chess
Posted on March 28, 2020 at 6:53 pm
If you have some extra time at home together, it’s a good time to teach kids to play chess. It teaches patience, sportsmanship, and strategy. As is often said, chess is a pool in which a mosquito may sip and an elephant may bathe. So even a young child can learn and even an experienced player can learn more. Plus there are some great movies about real-life children and teenage chess players.
Brooklyn Castle: P.S. 318 is a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school. And its students have won more national chess championships than any other in the country. So this is a touching and inspiring story of triumph and what can be accomplished in spite of the most daunting of obstacles if there is someone who believes in you. And it is a story of the joys of intellectual passion and a game that goes back centuries, even in an era of saturation in digital media. There is much of what you expect — gifted kids, dedicated teacher, tense anticipation, thrilling victories. The characters are endearing and their stories are stirring.
The Queen of Katwe: An illiterate girl from the slums of Uganda became an internationally ranked chess champion. So of course there is a Disney movie. But director Mira Nair has not made the usual feel-good underdog story. It is a wonderfully rich depiction of a family and a culture, as complex in its way as a master-level chess game with intricate moves by many pieces with different strengths and vulnerabilities.
The Dark Horse: It would be so easy — and so wrong — to make this true story of a Maori chess champion who struggles with mental illness as he teaches underprivileged kids into a safe, simple, saccharine, uplifting story. But writer/director James Napier Robertson, who himself played hundreds of chess games with real-life speed chess champion Genesis Potini, trusts his story and his audience enough to give us a film that is refreshingly messy, even grungy, and therefore much more powerful.
Endgame: “Modern Family’s” Rico Rodriguez stars in this story of the grandson of a chess champion who joins his school team as they prepare for the state finals.
Searching for Bobby Fischer: Based on the real-life story of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (real life chess player Max Pomeranc), this is a very thoughtful exploration of choices and parenting and what it means to have a full life, with a powerhouse cast including Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, and Joe Mantegna, along with William H. Macy, David Paymer, and Laura Linney.