7. Brooklyn Castle

Director: Katie Dellamaggiore

If this year’s SXSW Film Festival had one predominant theme, it’s certainly been that of gloomy fiction; seriously, even the majority of the lineup’s comedies had dark edges along with the laughs (or lack thereof). Thus, a film like documentarian Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle is a welcome change-of-pace.

Though it touches on some no-joke issues, Dellamaggiore’s touching look at the NYC borough’s I.S. 318 junior high school chess team glides through its consistently entertaining 100 minutes with the buoyancy of 12-year-old kids just trying to have fun and enjoy life. Matters such as budget cuts and educational deficiencies are there, and given their proper stand-up-against-the-man attention, but Brooklyn Castle isn’t all about woes—it’s a celebration of how afterschool programs benefit today’s youth.

The heartwarming doc follows a group of I.S. 318 chess champions, showing how the love of kings and rooks bonds them, inspires helpfulness, and makes them both better students and sources of pride for their hard-working parents. There’s a sense of uncontrollable joy that comes from seeing teenage Rochelle, one of the film’s central youngsters, winning a full ride to a major university, or Pobo, a lovable extrovert with a heart of gold, consoling a defeated teammate. The kids, like Brooklyn Castle as a whole, are natural crowd-pleasers.