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flick pick | The Boys of Baraka 2005
Directed by: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
Starring: Devon Brown, Richard Keyser, Montrey Moore, Romesh Vance
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: documentary
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor (watchability): /5 

Plot synopsis Stuck in the overcrowded, underfunded public school system of crime-ridden Baltimore, an estimated 75% of the city’s large African-American male population never graduates from high school. With insufficient education, their opportunities are severely limited: many end up addicted to drugs, in jail, or dead by violent means. In an attempt to give just a few of these young boys a fighting chance at avoiding such fates, a novel program sprang up back in the 90s. The Baraka School offered 20 handpicked middle-school-age Baltimore boys the opportunity to go to Africa for two years. Set in middle-of-nowhere Kenya and run by a small but dedicated group of volunteer teachers and counselors (all white), the school aimed to take some of the city’s most at-risk youth out of their dangerous, distracting urban environment, and provide them with individualized attention and a place where they could run around safely in the great outdoors. The Boys of Baraka focuses on four of these twenty: good-natured Richard and his more reserved brother Romesh, troublemaker Montrey, and preacher-in-training Devon.

Review Back when Hurricane Katrina hit and all the news reports were suddenly rife with images of a New Orleans that could have been mistaken for something out of a third-world country, had not the captions been labeled otherwise, I remember being shocked: this is America? Like many, I suppose, my own life had left me blissfully ignorant that such levels of poverty existed here in the supposed land of abundance; watching our government’s slowness and ineffectiveness in offering help was utterly depressing. The Boys of Baraka offers a smaller-scale and more intimate portrait of what it’s like to grow up in one of these pockets of America where opportunity is something you’re convinced that only other people have. Bringing us into the lives of the film’s four protagonists as well as their families, the film does a great job of making you feel for these kids; filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady get the boys and their families to really open up to the camera, and the result is a clear-eyed, honest, open peek into their minds and lives. You want to wring the boys' necks when they sometimes sabotage themselves; you cheer them on when they actually manage to defy the odds and succeed. It’s nothing short of amazing how much of a difference the boys’ first year at Baraka makes on their academic success and overall attitude. All of which might make the movie almost unbearably feel-good inspirational, if it weren’t for the fact that things take an unexpected turn during the course of the boys’ time in the program, and we realize that great ideas and good intentions alone aren’t enough. Whether the ending will make you hopeful or confirm your cynicism depends on whether you’re a half-empty or half-full sort of person; either way, this is a well-made documentary that will keep you thoroughly engaged while you’re watching it … and leave you thinking about it afterwards as well.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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