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Docurama presents
High School Boot Camp (2000)

"We didn't know what it was going to be like."
- Joey Martin, Eagle Academy cadet

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: November 28, 2004

Director: Chuck Braverman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:18s
Release Date: November 30, 2004
UPC: 767685962534
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB-B- B-

DVD Review

In Palm Beach County, Florida the sheriff's department runs Eagle Academy, a five-month military-style boot camp (complete with barracks, 4:30 AM wake up calls, fatigues and buzzcuts) for at-risk teens in attempt to set them on the straight and narrow by building discipline, self-esteem and confidence. In 2000, documentary filmmaker Chuck Braverman spent time following the exploits of a group of 50 teenage boys who had volunteered to take part in the controversial program, and the result is the emotionally-charged High School Boot Camp.

As a parent of a teenaged "good kid", I really can't fathom having to get to the point where a five-month military boot camp is the best solution, and that is what makes Braverman's film so powerful. Sure, the boys (ranging from age 12 to 17) all originally volunteered to attend, but that doesn't mean that once they arrive at Eagle Academy they necessarily have to like it. From the moment they step off the bus in front of the compound they are met by a team of screaming, bad-assed drill instructors who do a lot of in-your-face shouting, bringing many of the boys to tears. This is followed by more shouting, a harsh military buzzcut, a fresh set of fatigues, and frequent on-demand push-ups when one of the cadets exhibits behavior that shows even the slightest bit of rebellion.

The first few days are the hardest period of adjustment, though even as the drill instructors eventually take on the role of mentor over time, the strict discipline that is a constant begins to take its toll on many of the young cadets. The only real respite the boys have are the occasional group visits to a social worker, which allows them the opportunity to vent their pent-up frustrations, often resulting in more tears.

Braverman doesn't offer any formal voiceover narration, choosing to allow the cadets, their parents or the staff at Eagle Academy to tell the story, and he focuses primarily on a select group of seven or eight individuals. The backstories on the boys are all depressingly similar (drugs, crime, aggression, truancy) though there are wide variance in personalities. It was particularly tough to imagine tiny 12-year-old cadet Joey Martin as being an "at risk" child, so watching his struggles and experiences at Eagle Academy often seems cruel, but as Braverman indicates in the extras, not all the stories end on a positive note.

Not all the cadets featured in High School Boot Camp finish the program, and some end up lost forever, but it is worth the trip to see a cocky, adrift 16-year-old morph into a driven, centered person with a plan for the future. More importantly, it does make me want to hug my kid and be thankful she'll (hopefully) never need a place like Eagle Academy as a last resort.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Docurama has issued High School Boot Camp in 1.33:1 full-frame format, and colors are not especially bright, but they appear consistent throughout. No major print defects were evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is a simple but effective 2.0 stereo track. There is some moderate clipping during some of the drill instructor shouting that occurs early on, but the interview segments are all presentable and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
9 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Chuck Braverman, Marilyn Lennon Braverman, Max Braverman
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: Chuck Braverman (producer/cameraman/director), Marilyn Lennon Braverman (sound/stills), and Max Braverman (music) contribute what is unfortunately a fairly dry commentary track. It does have a few revealing moments about some of the cadets, such as pint-sized Joey Martin, but the overall energy level of the presentation is extremely low, making it a tough listen.

Far more satisfying, however, are the Additional Interviews and Where Are They Now? segments. Both provide updated background (generally three or four minutes each, though one does run nearly seven minutes) on assorted drill instructors and cadets, and in the Where Are They Now? Braverman follows up with six cadets featured in the doc, and while most of stories are positive, a couple are rather startling.

An automated Stills Gallery (01m:40s) features a quick set of behind-the-scenes shots of Chuck Braverman and Marilyn Lennon Braverman shooting High School Boot Camp, and is not especially interesting on its own. Strangely enough there are no Docurama trailers to be found here.

The disc itself is cut into 13 chapters, and does not feature any subtitle options.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Chuck Braverman's look at a military-style youth boot camp for at-risk teens shows what many considered as a last chance to straighten out their lives. The personal stories are heartbreaking, the regiment of the camp is often disturbing, but seeing the emotional changes that take place is fascinating to watch. Plus, the extras add a deserving coda to some of the cadets featured here, giving closure (good, bad or otherwise).

As with just about every Docurama releases, this one is worth checking out if you enjoy documentaries.


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