Something really extraordinary seems to be happening as a side effect of the recent rise in popularity of documentary films. While many films still illuminate problems in our society, some of these films have begin to become agents for change themselves. There is no denying the important role that films like The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till play in our society, but I am really moved by films like The Boys of Baraka. Show me injustice, and I am outraged. Show me programs that are righting injustices… and I am moved to action myself.
The Boys of Baraka is a very powerful film. Instead of just being another film about the deplorable situations for the youth in our inner cities, this is a film about one program that gives some kids a real chance to get out of the ghetto and break the cycle of poverty. Every year, 20 boys from the projects in Baltimore, MD are given the opportunity to spend two years at a special school in Kenya. Here, the boys not only get a quality education, but they also learn the kinds of valuable life lessons that they could never learn in books.
This is an amazing film that is proof that assistance programs can work, if they are conducted in the right way. It is so easy to see the problems instead of the people in these kids of situations. It is important for films like this to be made, to remind us that there are valuable individuals behind all these social programs.
The filmmakers have followed the golden rule of audio clarity for documentaries… they have included subtitles where necessary. In addition to the usual problems with capturing audio on the fly, many of the students have thick accents that make it difficult to understand what they are saying. Even with the help of subtitles, however, much of the dialog is hard to hear. This is a film that truly takes the “fly on the wall” approach, with very few direct interview segments, and no narration whatsoever. When things happen live, and all audio is captured on the fly, you just have to do your best. Even then, the results are mixed.
It is a shame that this film was presented in full screen, instead of a proper widescreen presentation. However, I understand the decision. When you’re talking about shooting a film not only on the fly, but shooting the majority of it in Kenya, small hand held cameras are the only possible solution. Unfortunately, hand held cameras come with a lot of other problems, such as diminished clarity and color accuracy, and a general poor transfer quality. When the film was transferred to DVD, those problems were magnified. Jagged edges abound, to the point of annoyance. It’s an unfortunate side affect of an unavoidable situation.
For some reason, commentary tracks are usually better on documentary films than on fiction pieces. Quality documentaries are meant to promote discussion, and commentary tracks exist for that very purpose. This one is a bit sparse, but what is said is truly thought-provoking.
There are also some trailers here for this film and other ThinkFilm documentaries, as well as six deleted scenes. Personally, I found the film to be a bit short, so I would have liked to have seen these deleted scened put back in. They are excellent segments, and I really can’t imagine why they were not put into the film.
A Commentary with Bill Cosby is a segment that went in a completely different direction than I thought it would go in. Instead of making some politically correct scripted comments, he makes some very insightful and honest observations about the film, and about his own life growing up in Philadelphia.
Finally, there is a segment on The Boys: An Update that is exactly what it sounds like. I know that when I finished watching a film such as this one, I am always curious what happened to the subjects. Lucky for me, that question is answered here in four short text essays. This is a quality group of extra features for a quality documentary film.
This is a powerful and amazingly important film. As with similar films and books before it, this story should be seen by middle class Americans and government officials as a reminder that there is work to be done in our very own country, and in our very own communities.
Special Features List
- Deleted Scenes
- A Commentary with Bill Cosby Featurette
- The Boys: An Update