Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Boys of Baraka

Release Date: 2005
Production Company: Loki Films
Directors: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady 
Run time: 84 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD

This 2005 documentary is by the directors of Detropia.  Before I get into the review, I sat right next to one of the directors, Rachel Grady and one of the boys from this documentary, as I sat outside eating my PB&J in between the screenings at Maryland Film Festival this May.  I realized it later as she was introducing the film with MFF Director Jed Dietz.  It was random, and now another reason why I think film festivals are great.

I was drawn to this documentary first because I had enjoyed Detropia.  Secondly, the documentary focuses on young African-American boys in Baltimore.  I watched this documentary a few days after The Interrupters.  Both films deal with communities struggling with violence, drug abuse, and the future of its young people. 

The Boys of Baraka poses the question: Can 10,000 miles make a difference?  When the documentary was made, 76% of African-American boys did not graduate high school.  The Baraka School strove to change that.  Each year, the Baraka Boarding School in Kenya, East Africa, selected 20 at-risk boys from Baltimore to spend 2 years in Kenya. 

The film focuses on 4 boys, Richard and his younger brother Romesh, Devon, and Montrey.  You meet each boy in his home and understand where he is coming from.  When the boys leave home, you see the struggle of 12 and 13 year old boys moving away from home.  The scene at the airport is moving: families crying, but mothers reminding them why they are going, why they are doing this.

The documentary shows how the boys begin to change, working together, convincing one another not to fight, and growing academically.  There is some humor in it as well.  Boys from the inner city getting used to rural Kenya, without power 24 hours a day. "There is something better than a cat, a hedgehog.  See?"

Bonus materials include an interview with Bill Cosby: "Your white critics, your black critics.  "Well why are these white people there?'  Well then goddamnit, put the black bodies on them.  Cause if no black bodies show up, don't bitch to me about white people doing a marvelous job."

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