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TH!INKFilm presents

The Boys of Baraka (2005)

"Suppose, right, your father in jail. How do you feel? My father, he shot my the leg. It's sad that somebody else gotta take care of me and my father can't, because he's in prison."- Richard Keyser, Jr.

Stars: Devon Brown, Richard Keyser, Jr., Montrey Moore, Romesh Vance
Other Stars: Lisa Brown, Leeorita Keyser, Mavis Jackson, Mary Brown, Ray Berttula, Keith Auliek, Monica Lemoine, Jennifer Mann, Mary Scanlan
Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

MPAA Rating: R for some language
Run Time: 01h:23m:58s
Release Date: 2006-06-06
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-B- B-


DVD Review

The Boys of Baraka is a call for both celebration and outrage. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady follow a group of young black boys from Baltimore who are handpicked to spend two years at the Baraka School in East Kenya. The idea behind selecting these 20 "at risk" boys is to remove them from a destructive environment and allow them an opportunity to get into any high school of their choosing. According to the Baraka School's plan, this will help each young man to succeed and rise out of urban hell.

The documentary follows a handful of these boys who certainly need more assistance than a guidance counselor can provide. Devon Brown is a talented, intelligent boy who is raised by his grandmother, Mary, because his mother is a hopeless drug addict. He dreams of being a pastor and in some candid scenes of him at church we can easily see him being an effective leader at just about any congregation. Richard Keyser, Jr. is a charismatic lad who loves to play to the camera, but comes from a fractured family. His father is in prison after attempting to kill Richard's mother. Accompanied with little brother Romesh, Richard seems an ideal candidate for the Baraka School. Without this opportunity, one can easily see this child falling into the world of drugs he so clearly laments. Concluding the principal figures in the movie is Montrey Moore. Of all the boys heading to East Kenya, Montrey seems to be the most in need of assistance. Prone to violent outbursts, he appears to be lacking any direction in life, and when his mom mentions seeing a killing while driving home, one can easily imagine Montrey being the victim someday.

Ewing and Grady aren't delivering an advocacy piece, but rather a candid look at one solution being sought in bad situation. I found myself questioning the Baraka School's lasting impact more than a few times during the documentary's 84 minutes, but there's no denying that each boy makes a turn for the better once situated at the school. It isn't an easy transition, with boys quarrelling over stupid things and the dislocation from family causing homesickness. Yet, with persistence, the no-nonsense demeanor of the teachers takes hold of each boy and he arrives back in Baltimore at the end of the first year leaps and bounds beyond his academic placement only a year prior. Things seem to be turning out well until...

Well, I'm not going to say. The Boys of Baraka is not an against-all-odds, everything-will-work-out story. There are successes and failures at the Baraka School and back home in Baltimore, for a variety of reasons that play out in unexpected ways. The filmmakers have captured a vivid portrait of life for inner-city families. Stripped of pretense and soapboxes, the movie gives us a bird's-eye view of its recorded events. Watching Devon, Richard, and Montrey at this critical point in their lives, I wanted to stand up and cheer them on. Sadly, the constraints of cinema don't allow for it in this case. The boys are all but powerless, as is the audience, to sway the tides that help some to succeed and push others out to sea, where they may very well drown.

I suppose that's where the outrage comes from that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. The celebration comes from seeing the men and women work at the Baraka School. With tireless effort and absolute conviction, they've devised a plan to help children succeed. Is it a perfect system that guarantees success? No, but it's taken these young "at risk" boys from Baltimore and made some of them into promising men with the world open to them. It might not be much, but it's a start.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 transfer is nothing special to look at. Preserving the original aspect ratio, the picture here accurately reflects the source material. The digital video looks quite flat and uninspiring, which means that this is not a disc to demo your home theater setup. Nor is it meant to be.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Stereo 2.0 English mix is nothing exceptional, either. Everything sounds fairly crisp, especially considering it's raw audio from the shoot. For scenes where the boys' dialect is difficult to discern, the documentary thankfully adds subtitles. Even when played in ProLogic, things is still quite front heavy. However, the by-the-numbers audio track suits the material well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Born Into Brothels
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. A Conversation with Bill Cosby—a video interview with comedian Bill Cosby, discussing his reaction to the documentary.
Extras Review: ThinkFilm provides a nice bit of supplemental material for this release. Prior to the main menu, the trailers for The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and Born Into Brothels are shown in widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound. A feature-length commentary with directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady offers some nice insight into the making of the documentary. Some of their observations are pedantic, but they offer some nice input about the children and their interactions with one another.

After that is The Boys: An Update. Much like the cast and crew biographies you find on other DVDS, this presents text cards about Devon, Richard, Montrey, and Romesh. Although quite brief, it is good to get a bit of information concerning their current situation. In A Conversation with Bill Cosby (06m:37s), Cosby explains how his childhood paralleled the situation shown in the movie and offers his opinions on what these boys need to succeed.

Six deleted scenes are also available and can be played either individually or all together (with a combined runtime of 17m:33s). While not essential to the narrative, these are a wonderful supplement and allow greater access into the unique personality of each boy. The Boys of Baraka trailer rounds out the special features.

While not the most amazing collection of special features, the material here is a welcomed inclusion on the DVD.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

The Boys of Baraka is a compelling documentary that examines a unique solution to solving the problems facing inner-city youths and merits a viewing.

Nate Meyers 2006-06-20