Documentaries about kids triumphing (or sometimes not) within educational endeavors have been big hits recently, from Spellbound to the current festival favorite Mad Hot Ballroom. With its SXSW Special Jury Award, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s doc The Boys of Baraka should deservedly achieve the same level of recognition. Original, visually elegant and with an uncommonly ambitious narrative sweep, The Boys of Baraka was shot over a two-year period and makes a real investment in its subjects, an investment that pays off for the filmmakers.
I met Ewing and Grady, who together run the New York production company Loki Films, just before the festival and traded some emails with them about the film. In their words:
“On September 12, 2002 twenty ‘at risk’ 12-year-old boys from the tough streets of inner-city Baltimore left home to attend the 7th and 8th grade at Baraka, an experimental boarding school located in Kenya, East Africa. Here, faced with a strict academic and disciplinary program as well as the freedom to be normal teenage boys, these brave kids began the daunting
journey towards putting their lives on a fresh path.
The Boys of Baraka focuses on four boys: Devon, Montrey, Richard and his brother Romesh. Their humor and explicit truthfulness give intimate insight into their optimistic plans, despite the tremendous obstacles they face both at home and in school. Through extensive time with the boys in Baltimore and in Africa, the film captures the kids’ amazing journeyŠ and how they fare when they are forced to return the difficult realities of their city.
The Boys of Baraka zeros in on kids that society has given up on – – boys with every disadvantage, but who refuse to be cast off as ‘throw-aways.'”
Funded by ITVS, The Boys of Baraka will be broadcast on POV in summer, 2006, but should receive further big-screen play in the months ahead.