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Capone Goes To SUMMERCAMP!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Every so often a little film drifts into our worlds that we want to whole world to see. In a given year, this might happen 6 to 10 times, and when I write about such films, most of you won't have an opportunity to see these movies until they are released on DVD, which is fine; I just want you to see them. But here's a case where some of you might be able to catch a film on the big screen with an audience (this film begs to be a shared experience). The film is called SUMMERCAMP!, and at the end of this review, I'll give you a site you can go to find out where you can see whether it's coming to a theater near you. I never did the full-fledged summer camp thing as a kid (I was more a day camp youngster), but so many other kids I grew up with were dumped at summer camp for two or three weeks, and I'm guessing the experience hasn't changed too terribly much over the years. As if to prove my point, I recently watched the terrific new documentary SUMMERCAMP! with my wife (who was a summer camp kid), and she even knew many of the songs the young campers were singing and the déjà vu went racing through her. Some things never change, I guess. The film serves as proof that the camp experience for many children is a place for them to make new friends, many of whom stay friends for life. For others, it's hell on earth. I haven't seen this many tear-soaked faces since the critics' screening of DADDY DAY CAMP. SUMMERCAMP! focuses on a nature camp in northern Wisconsin attended largely by kids from suburban Chicago, and it's a work I remember absolutely loving when I saw it last October as part of the Chicago Film Festival. Somehow filmmakers Sarah Price (THE YES MEN) and Bradley Beesley (who worked on the Flaming Lips doc FEARLESS FREAKS) gain the trust of about 90 children and a handful of camp counselors, some of whom are shockingly honest about their attitudes toward children and the camp itself. But the real power of the film is revealed as the filmmakers get the kids to open up about their family lives, their health conditions (there are a few kids here with severe behavioral troubles), and their abilities to make new friends (I'd say the shy to outgoing ratio is 50/50). There are dozens of unforgettable campers here, some of whom are the sweetest kids you'll ever meet. Others are unforgivable bullies who should be leashed, muzzled, and tied to a tree. There is one little girl who is obsessed with the chickadee bird. At first we just think she's a little weird, but as we get to know her, she reveals to her cabin mates the reason behind her obsession, and you'll be blinded with tears when you hear her story. The joy in watching SUMMERCAMP! is seeing these kids come out of their shells, in many cases with the filmmakers first and then with each other. But we also get a fairly extensive look at the lengths the counselors go to discipline the troublemakers as nicely as possible. It's a tough balancing act, and I can see how the job that falls upon them is both incredibly rewarding and the biggest pain the ass imaginable. But most of SUMMERCAMP! is about friendships being forged and tested, endurance challenges, messy craft projects, a ridiculously funny talent show, campfire songs, enjoying or rejecting nature, and a wonderful set of tunes by The Flaming Lips and Noisola that truly set the mood for this quirky work that is one of the finest profiles of childhood I've ever seen. You'll also be reminded how a kid's knee-jerk reaction to getting caught doing something wrong is to lie. And some of them are damn good at it. You might not think a film about children can teach you much about your adult life, but that just goes to show how much you still have to learn about the birthplace of life lessons. The film is often funny, but it also finds several opportunities to break your heart in big and small ways. As I mentioned, SUMMERCAMP! is slowly making its way across the country, including a handful of screenings at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago in the next week. Go to for showtimes, and if you don't live in Chicago, make sure to check out for upcoming screenings of SUMMERCAMP! through the end of the year. This is one that's worth seeking out, folks.


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