For 16-year-old Pobo Efekoro, this past week has been particularly hectic.
In addition to his normal activities – he is a junior at Forest Hills High School, secretary of the student body and a volunteer for the Obama campaign – Efekoro has been doing publicity ahead of the release of “Brooklyn Castle,” a documentary that tells the inspiring story of the winning chess team at I.S. 318 in Williamsburg.
“I’ve been running, running and somehow I managed to complete all my homework. I don’t know how,” he said with a laugh as he fielded questions during his latest interview.
Efekoro is one of five students profiled in the movie that was filmed during the 2009-2010 school year when he was a student at I.S. 318 and a member of the chess team, the highest ranked junior high team in the country.
The documentary, which has screened at festivals to good reviews, is being released in theaters on Friday. Efekoro said he wants audiences across the country to take away one lesson: “This is what we can do if we have the right funds.”
I.S. 318 assistant principal John Galvin, who is also featured in the film, has been gratified by the early positive reaction to the documentary, which he said shows that his students are the “intellectual equals of anyone in the country.”
On Thursday, he was organizing a group of students, teachers and community members to go to Manhattan to see a preview of the film before its Friday release. He also was preparing for an appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show” Friday morning.
“It’s been a little unreal. You labor away doing what you think is great, meaningful work but you do it anonymously,” he said in a phone interview. “Now, some reviewer calls me a ‘genuine American hero.’ It’s kind of goofy but it does make me feel good.”
He said that he hoped the film would prove inspiring for other educators — that “it puts a little wind in the sails of anyone who works in public education.”
Galvin said that as a result of the film, the school had been able to raise some money to ease budget shortfalls that had threatened the chess team’s travel to out-of-state tournaments.
“The film makes it easy to understand the importance of after-school programs,” he said. “When people actually see the effect of the cuts on kids, it has a more direct impact.”
He said the program is still operating in a hole and he hoped the release of the documentary would lead to “an angel coming to our rescue.”
The documentary shows how the funding problems led Efekoro to run for student government in I.S. 318 so he could use the office to raise money to save the chess program. It sparked a desire in him to pursue a political career and he muses in the film about the possibility of being elected president.
In his interview with Schoolbook, Efekoro said his ambitions — “to be a successful elected official hopefully U.S. Congress or Senate and maybe the White House” — have not waned since entering high school.
“I’m still the same person as when I left 318. I still want to pursue my political goals but I’m a little more open to how I’m going to do that,” he said.
Efekoro said he has matured in the years since the documentary was filmed. Asked how watching the film affected him, he said he was embarrassed by some of the things he said. “I guess I’m a little quieter now.”
Several special screenings are planned over the weekend.
At the Sunshine Cinema on East Houston Street, producer Nelson Dellamaggiore, Ekeforo and two of the other players featured in the film introduce Friday’s 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows. On Saturday, director Katie Dellamaggiore and two student chess players will introduce the 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. showings.
Also, the education news website gothamschools.org will host a screening at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Teachers and employees of the Department of Education can get discounted tickets. The site asks that anyone interested in buying a discounted ticket send an email to email@example.com.
After the screening, Galvin and I.S. 318′s chess teacher, Elizabeth Spiegel, will take questions from the audience.