The Boys of Baraka

"Good"

The Boys of Baraka Review


Just when you think you're watching yet another touching documentary about triumph over adversity, The Boys of Baraka pulls the rug out and sends you flying, serving a painful lesson in the messy realities of real life. Things don't always work out the way they do in the movies.

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady spent three years following the journey of 20 African-American dead-end kids from the projects of Baltimore who were given the unique opportunity to spend two years at a remote boarding school in Kenya to reboot their troubled lives and set them on the right path for the future.

While the kids (and especially their families) are wildly grateful for this lucky chance, tears flow at the airport before the boys step onto a plane for the first and experiment with the call buttons, seat lights, and tray tables with glee. The next day, they find themselves at the Baraka School on a dusty red plain somewhere deep in Kenya.

While Baraka is neither boot camp nor jail, it is a place of intense discipline and one-on-one attention, the antithesis of the chaotic junior highs from which the boys have come. Homesickness and rebelliousness kick in, and one boy even repacks his things and sets out to walk home if necessary, but most take the new surroundings in stride and settle in for lots of schoolwork and soccer.

The most promising of the boys, Devon, spouts self-help platitudes and practices his preaching skills, while the teachers have much more trouble with Montrey, a boy who have never learned a thing about anger management. Brothers Richard and Romesh lean on each other for support, and all the boys look forward to phone calls and videotapes from family back home.

The boys celebrate a successful first year by joyfully climbing Mount Kenya before heading back to Baltimore for summer break. Sadly, the mean streets look meaner than ever, and it's hard to keep the chaos at bay. Even sadder, the Baraka administration calls a meeting to tell the parents that the school will have to shut down because of security concerns in Kenya. The parents are shocked, furious, tearful, and they grasp at any bit of hope. Why, they ask, can't the program be replicated closer to home? Why, indeed. The film never answers this question.

And so, betrayed once again by a world that has rarely cut them a break, each boy must deal with re-immersion into the terrible schools they had left behind. Will the skills and attitude adjustments they picked up at Baraka stand them in good stead? The results, sad to say, are inconsistent at best.

Ewing and Grady make the best of a situation that clearly didn't go their way, but The Boys of Baraka leaves out vital pieces of information, such as how and why the school was founded and who pays for it. Like Michael Apted's Up series, the movie demands follow-ups (the DVD provides a few) because we won't feel it's ended until we know whether each of the boys is dead, in jail, or in college. The fact that as a result of the movie some of them want to be actors isn't exactly encouraging.

Baraka on the backside.



The Boys of Baraka

Facts and Figures

Run time: 84 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 15th October 2005

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 31 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Producer: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

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