An independent movie about Brownsville chess with a story line that will resonate with locals is about to begin filming in Brownsville.
“Endgame” tells the story of José, 11, who joins the school chess team and with the help of Coach Alvarado “embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family,” Sandra Avila, the film’s co-producer and an Edinburg native, said from Los Angeles.
“It’s the kind of story that happens all the time in Brownsville,” Drue Brown, public information officer for the Brownsville Independent School District, said of the project.
Avila is working with BISD and Peter Goodman of the Brownsville Film Commission to secure shooting locations around Brownsville that will give the film a distinct local flavor. She also is looking for local sponsors and local talent.
“The whole goal is if we’re telling a local story, we want to tell it with local talent, both in front of and behind the camera,” Avila said. The production company, The Endgame Movie LLC, is seeking résumés from local residents to fill dozens of slots on the movie’s production crew.
Auditions will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Camille Playhouse. Filming is to start April 24 at locations around Brownsville. Avila said 20 to 25 speaking roles and about 150 roles as extras are available.
Rico Rodriguez, who is known for his role of Manny Delgado in the ABC sitcom “Modern Family,” has been engaged to play José. Efren Ramirez, best known for playing Pedro Sánchez in the 2004 indie film “Napoleon Dynamite,” has been similarly engaged to play Coach Alvarado, Avila said.
“We’re also talking to actors from the Valley — Valente Rodriguez, who was on the ‘George Lopez Show,’ and Cindy Vela, who has done guest spots on a lot of TV series,” Avila said, adding that contract negotiations are ongoing.
Chicago filmmaker Carmen Marron is the director and co-producer. She and Avila said they are excited about the movie and eager to begin.
“We’re telling a success story that comes out of the Valley,” Marron said. “Both of us are just motivated to get the story out nationwide.”
Edinburg attorney Hector Salinas wrote the screenplay after watching a June 2010 segment of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumble” called “Chess Kids.” The segment told the story of Brownsville’s emergence as a national chess powerhouse. Salinas is the executive producer and this is his first film, though he said he has others in the works.
“I hadn’t realized they had such great success at a national level,” Salinas said of chess in Brownsville. “A light bulb went off in my head and within a week I was writing my story, with Brownsville chess as the foundation.”
Fast forward to early 2011. Avila is in Edinburg visiting her parents. At a Best Buy in McAllen, they run into Salinas, whose older brother had been her classmate at Edinburg High School.
“He says, ‘I have this really great script,’” Avila said. “Being from the Valley and from Edinburg, I always wanted to come back and make an inspirational film about Latinos, to break down the Latino stereotypes.”
BISD spends $360,000 a year on chess, fielding chess teams at 30 elementary schools, 11 middle schools and six high schools. At least 2,000 students participate, according to the district’s Department of Advanced Academics.
Teams and individual players from BISD schools have won state and national championships since the early 1990s when teams from Russell Elementary won seven state championships in a row. Eventually, other schools in Brownsville and the Valley followed suit.
The chess team from the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College has been to the Final Four of Collegiate Chess.
People associated with BISD’s chess program say the game is a great way to improve student academic achievement.
Recently, Hanna High School’s chess team won the 2012 11th Grade National Championship. Team members said playing chess helps you think, teaches you patience and how to think ahead, as well as how to think under pressure.
Corina Caballero, lead resource teacher in the Department of Advanced Academics, said chess involves different levels of critical thinking.
“Besides that, at the social and emotional level, being part of a team develops that school spirit, how to support each other, how to concentrate and have self-discipline,” she said. “Definitely, their self-esteem is going to improve. They’re assuming responsibility” for the decisions they make.
She, too, said BISD is full of success stories, where a student gets intrigued by the game.
“Sometimes your at-risk, discipline problem-type students now have found an outlet that allows them to have that positive behavior,” she said.
Superintendent Carl A. Montoya said it’s exciting to have BISD’s chess program “serve as the inspiration for a feature film. The production company will handle the casting and Brownsville ISD will provide the technical assistance related to chess as well as some of the filming locations. … The district is in full cooperation with this project, but at no time will filming be allowed to interfere with student instruction.”