News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 5, 2013
Chess documentary highlights Island teams, continues fundraising
Filmmaker strategizes end game

Veronica Young films for chess documentary

In January of this year, Veronica Young films fourth-grade chess players during the Joe Brown Memorial Tournament.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

by Jessica Brophy

Documentary filmmaker Veronica Young was fascinated. How could a school so small have a chess team so extraordinarily successful?

“It’s a very small, rural school, with a lackluster academic reputation. But for 19 years in a row it has produced champion chess teams. How is this possible?” said Young in a recent interview.

Young, who lives in Blue Hill, is creating a television documentary about the island’s chess program. She has created documentaries and series for HBO, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, The learning Channel and more. The goal is to have the documentary aired on public television and in schools and libraries across the country.

“What is clear in this film is how important the community is,” said Young. “The school competes and they beat bigger schools, some of whom might have paid staff on a chess program.”

Parents transport children to and from practices and matches. Fundraising takes place at a community-wide level.

Young said she was shocked at how much noise there is during chess practice. “The level of noise is deafening,” she said. “They’re having fun. The enthusiasm is exciting.”

Young filmed last season, including a trip to the Supernationals. “You know a school is serious about chess when they’ve run out of display room for the trophies,” she said.

One of the major components of the documentary is focused on the coach and organizer of the island’s chess program: Dick Powell.

“It’s an example of the impact that a single individual can have on a community,” said Young. “Dick [Powell] creates a masterful learning environment.”

She said the chess program plays a big roll in the one-hour film, which she hopes to edit in such a way as to have “the story tell itself.”

The production is on hold for the moment, as fundraising is underway to underwrite the project. The project is expected to cost $120,000 altogether, which Young admits sounds like a large number until it is compared to budgets for most documentary films, which start at $300,000 and can cost many hundreds of thousands more.

Monies raised are handled by the Boston-based nonprofit Filmmaker’s Collaborative. Young said she’s managing to keep costs low by producing, directing, writing and shooting the film for the project. However, there are still costs like having music designed and written, hiring a narrator, technical work and other costs.

More than 60 hours of film needs to be sorted and edited into a one-hour production.

Young hopes that the documentary will help other chess programs across the country, and raise the profile of the island’s chess program, perhaps making fundraising for trips to national competitions easier.