15 August 2007


It's easy for most of us to forget what it feels like to be a child, especially if you don't work with children or aren't a parent. Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price's straightforward but affecting documentary unerringly captures the nostalgic warmth and pure sense of discovery of those pre-teen (and early teenaged) years. It also honestly depicts how naturally vulnerable and bewildered children occasionally are whether they're struggling to make friends or simply feeling homesick.

Recorded over one summer at the Swift Nature Camp in northern Wisconsin, the film dutifully illustrates all the familiar rituals of a prototypical spell at camp, from arts and crafts and nature hikes to talent shows and roasting marshmallows to a burnt crisp over an open fire. We meet many campers, but the film focuses on a select few, like roly-poly Cameron, whose anti-social behavior gradually spirals out of control, or loner Holly, whose cute, curious obsession with chickadees is far more significant than it first appears. Throughout a season of canoeing trips, bedtime stories, first crushes and plastic bowls of lime jell-o, some of the kids make friends and grow in character and have the times of their lives; others don't.

While not exactly revelatory filmmaking, after years of slasher pics, sex comedies and agenda-centric docs, this is as close to an authentic look at the culture of summer camps that we're ever likely to get. Refreshingly, there is a minimum (if not complete lack) of mugging for the camera from these kids, and this makes a huge difference. Beesley and Price's real accomplishment is in how genuine and unaffected their subjects appear—it's what endears them and the film to us.

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