2007, Movie, NR, 85 mins


The unmistakable scent of lake water, pine sap and bug juice permeates this utterly charming documentary about a group of 9-14 year-old kids who spend three weeks at a coed Wisconsin summer camp. In summer, 2003, filmmakers Bradley Beesley (THE FEARLESS FREAKS: FEATURING THE FLAMING LIPS) and Sarah Price (AMERICAN MOVIE, THE YES MEN), stitched name labels into their underwear, packed up their insect spray, calamine lotion and a digital camera, and dared to join the 90 or so kids -- and their intrepid counselors -- at Wisconsin's picturesque Swift Nature Camp. What they captured will be a heady nostalgia trip for anyone who went to summer camp, and an interesting peek into a hallowed American tradition -- and a godsend for exhausted parents -- for all who didn't. Beesley and Price begin with a series a brief introductions to the small group of kids they'll be following: Fourteen-year-old Cameron, an attention grabber from Kennedy, Illinois; Tyler, the12-year-old son of a female bodybuilder who plans on working on his pecs; 10-year-old Stephanie from Skokie, who just loves reptiles; 9-year-old Holly, who wants to go to Hollywood (or California, she doesn't care which one); Spencer, an11-year-old hamster owner who likes adults better than kids; and preternaturally mature Bailey, who prefers animals to either one. Humans, in her considered opinion, are "just pink blobs with no defenses." Over the course of their three-week stay at Swift, their full personalities begin to emerge. Pint-sized Spencer is a huge Tom Clancy fan (this summer he's plowing through Executive Orders) who plans on joining the military and misses his workaholic dad; Bailey refuses to sweat the small stuff and remains coolly detached from the intra-bunk social politics, Cameron reveals himself to be an insecure bully who only wants the other kids to like him; and the wonderfully ethereal Holly lives in a strange world of her own filled with chickadees no else can see. Not a whole lot happens, really: The boys give each other wedgies and flirt with the girls; the younger kids take clowning lessons. Everyone performs in a talent show, they write letters home, get homesick and generally act like kids at summer camp. Someone gets a fishhook in his eye. Beesley and Price's young subjects are smart and unusually articulate, and they talk about their lives with a perspective one doesn't expect from children. But about halfway through of this beautifully shot documentary, an unsettling fact surfaces: a disturbing number of these intelligent and funny campers are on some form of medication, having been diagnosed with everything from ADHT, ADD, depression and even bi-polar disorder. The film quietly suggests that denied their Game Boys and laptops and returned for a bit to their natural habitat -- i.e., the semi-wild -- most of these kids are just fine. It's a good point and the film is great fun, and the perfectly summer-sun baked soundtrack comes largely courtesy of Beesley's good pals, the Flaming Lips. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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