do you do with teenaged kids who are at risk of failing school or
going to jail? One approach is a kind of "tough love"
style of education, in which kids are given firm discipline and
clear-cut expectations and consequences for their actions. The
approach seems to have more merit now that child psychologists are
starting to sheepishly admit that all those "raising
self-esteem" programs didn't really do a darn bit of good... it
seems that real self-esteem comes from doing something worthwhile,
not the other way around.
In any case, one
such "tough-love" approach is the Eagle Academy in a
Florida county, otherwise known as the "high school boot camp"
of the documentary's title. It's a five-month residential program in
which a group of at-risk high-school-aged kids voluntarily enrolls to
soak up some military-style discipline to get themselves on the
straight and narrow. While it's not officially associated with any
branch of the military (at least not that the documentary shows), the
Eagle Academy is run by people who are at least in some way part of
the military, and the program as a whole tries to recreate the "boot
camp" experience, right down to the drill sergeants screaming
into the faces of the recruits.
particularly approve of the gung-ho military style used here --
seeing a six-foot-tall drill sergeant screaming in the face of an
eleven-year-old kid with tears running down his face seems a little,
well, excessive -- but for viewers who have had some experiences with
the kind of kids that the Eagle Academy deals with, there is
something to be said for the results. Kids who were frankly little
(or big) thugs in the mainstream school are forced to actually listen
to adults and obey their instructions; sadly, that's more of an
accomplishment than you might think. One scene in High School Boot
Camp is particularly telling: the kids have to be explicitly
taught how to sit at a table and eat their meals in a normal, orderly
Boot Camp follows one group of "recruits" through the
whole process. We get some interviews with kids and their parents
before they board the bus to head off to the academy, and we see them
in the various Eagle Academy activities all the way to graduation.
Interspersed with footage of day-to-day life are interviews with the
kids and the various instructors and other people involved with
running the academy.
The documentary is
reasonably well done for what it is: it paints a picture of a
specific, fairly extreme approach to educating at-risk youth. It
could have been a lot more, though, and that's why I found myself not
all that engaged by the film when push comes to shove. There's no
introspection here; the film is focused so closely on what happens
from day to day, and what the experience is like for these kids, that
it never considers the larger context. What other programs exist like
this? Can the same effect be achieved without the trappings of the
military? What about at-risk girls? (All the Eagle Academy kids are
boys.) Is a five-month program long enough? And, most importantly,
does it work? Do these kids shape up for good?
Boot Camp appears in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which seems to be
its original presentation. The image quality is passable for a
low-budget documentary; there's not too much obviously wrong with the
picture, but it's fairly soft and colors look rather flat and
The Dolby 2.0
soundtrack is adequate most of the time, falling below average on
some occasions. It handles the dialogue during interviews acceptably;
voices are slightly flat but otherwise clear and easy to understand.
In footage of the camp as it's operating, though, the soundtrack
doesn't cope as well; it tends to sound harsh and tinny, especially
when someone is shouting.
Boot Camp offers a respectable set of special features. There's
an audio commentary track, and a bit over ten minutes' worth of
additional interview footage that didn't make it into the film. The
"Where Are They Now?" section is probably the most
interesting, as it offers an update on seven of the kids who were
featured in the film. There's one text segment but the rest are
interview clips, running generally 1-3 minutes each. To a certain
extent, this section addresses the "did it work?"
question that the film itself avoids... and the answer seems to be
"sometimes, sometimes not."
We also get text
biographies of the filmmakers and a photo gallery.
Boot Camp has an interesting topic - can military-style
discipline help troubled kids get their acts together? - and does a
reasonable job of documenting the way that the Eagle Academy runs its
"boot camp" for kids. The lack of any sense of larger
context, or any attention to interesting questions like whether the
program actually works, does sap some of the interest out of the
film, though. I'd give this a mild recommended for viewers who are
particularly interested in alternative education, and a "rent
it" as a general recommendation.