Movies for the Homebound VIII: Stories of Real Children

Posted on April 27, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Thinkfilm 2002


There are some delightful documentaries about real kids that are ideal family viewing.

Spellbound: Middle schoolers compete in in the annual Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee, with feats of astonishing mastery of shockingly difficult words. This exciting competition is also a heartwarming story of America, its diversity of families and its astonishing young people of such dedication and curiosity.

Batkid Begins: An entire city unites to give a sick child his dream of being Batman.

Mad Hot Ballroom: New York City schoolchildren participate in a program that teaches them ballroom dancing — and teamwork, discipline, and the joy of mastering movement.

Jump: Five teams of kids get ready for a jump rope competition of astonishing athleticism and skill.

Brooklyn Castle: The story of a middle school’s championship chess team — and it’s biggest challenge, budget cuts.

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Documentary Stories About Kids

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

Copyright hugrakka 2008

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.

This blog post is dedicated to our wonderful son, who used to teach chess in the New York city schools.

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For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Not specified

Contest: Win The Queen of Katwe

Posted on February 17, 2017 at 9:15 am

Copyright 2016 Disney


You can win a DVD/Blu-Ray of one of the best family movies of 2016, “The Queen of Katwe,” based on the true story of a girl from the poorest part of Uganda who became an international chess champion. It stars Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo.

Send me an email at with Queen in the subject line and tell me your favorite board game. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I’ll pick a winner at random on February 25, 2017. Good luck!

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Contests and Giveaways

The Queen of Katwe

Posted on September 22, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Copyright Disney 2016
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.

At the center of the story is Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave”), a young widow with five children living in dire poverty. She cannot afford to send her children to school, and so they sell maize in the street and at an open market. Her oldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) is a young teenager already attracting the attention of a man. The youngest is a baby. When Harriet’s daughter Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her brother are lured into a chess class with cups of porridge, Harriet is scared and angry. She needs the children to bring in money, and she believes that the chess teacher, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo of “Selma”) is using them for some sort of gambling operation. But Katende, who is waiting for a job as an engineer, persuades her that he just wants her children to learn.

Nair (“Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”) has a great eye, and a great gift for creating vibrant, layered, wonderfully inviting communities on screen. As Harriet tries to protect her family, despite eviction, a sexual predator, a terrible injury, she recognizes that she has to do more than keep her children safe. She has to open the world to them. Phiona cannot read or count, but somehow she can see eight moves ahead on a chess board as only a very few masters of the game can do. Robert knows that poverty is only the beginning of the problem the children face. The snobbery and bigotry of the middle class Ugandans is the real obstacle. They will not even allow the children from the slum to compete. Robert tricks the official into agreeing to let them in if they can raise the entry fee. And then he raises the money himself, by playing soccer.

Newcomer Nalwanga, from a community much like Phiona’s, has a winning screen presence, and we can see that she has inherited her ability to think through chess problems from her mother’s canny navigation of the challenges to the family’s most basic survival. Nyong’o shows a grace and courage, even in the direst moments, that echo Phiona’s resilience.

Parents should know that this movie includes themes of poverty and deprivation, child is hurt in an accident with scenes of painful medical treatment, there are also some references to sexual predators and there is an out of wedlock teen pregnancy.

Family discussion: Why did Robert change his mind? Why did Phiona get cranky after she returned home?

If you like this, try: “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” “Brooklyn Castle,” and “Endgame”

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