Film-Forward Review: [THE BOYS OF BARAKA]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

THE BOYS OF BARAKA
Directed & Produced by: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady.
Director of Photography: Marco Franzoni & Tony Hardmon.
Edited by: Enat Sidi.
Music by: J.J. McGeehan.
Released by: THINKFilm.
Country of Origin: USA. 84 min. Not Rated.

The apocalyptic opening sequence - a lit crack pipe, teenage boys playing cops and drug dealers, a police helicopter hovering in the nighttime air -is proceeded by the statistic that 76 percent of African-American teenage males in Baltimore will not graduate from high school. The point is dramatically hammered home by Mavis Jackson, who lays out to an all-male classroom their three most probable fates: an orange jump suit, a black suit and a brown box, or a high school diploma. Jackson is a recruiter for the Baraka School, a two-year middle school program for at-risk 12- and 13-year-old boys. The documentary follows four of the 20 hand-picked youths, who leave behind their families for the boarding schoolís rustic campus in the Kenyan wilderness, where the hedgehog is the official mascot: the academically-inclined Romesh and his older brother Richard, who reads at the second grade level; Devon, raised by his grandparents while his mother, a former drug addict, drifts in and out of prison; and the heckling Montrey, from whose mouth your-mama jokes fly fast and furious.

Unlike the recent feel-good Mad Hot Ballroom or 2003ís OT: Our Town with their upbeat portrayals of creative inner city youth, The Boys of Baraka has a looser flow, as the boys roughhouse, challenge their teachers/counselors, or fight, which is frequently, during their first school year. Though the film lacks the built-in plot thread of a dance competition or school project, the high stakes are clearly established. The Boys of Baraka generates its own disquieting form of suspense with its ambiguous open ending. The viewer is left in the same boat as the parents, unsure about whether these youth can really change their behavior. The uncertainty is the filmís strength. Kent Turner
November 30, 2005

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