Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA/Dominican Republic, 2014. Red Thorn Productions. Screenplay by Kate Logan, Yada Zamora. Cinematography by Peter Borrud, Kate Logan. Produced by Paul A. Levin, Kate Logan, Yada Zamora. Music by Joseph S. DeBeasi. Production Design by Laura Burk. Film Editing by Herbert Dwight Raymond IV, Sean Yates.
A bizarre film about a bizarre experience, initiated by filmmaker Kate Logan when her time spent doing missions work in the Dominican Republic brought her in contact with a reform school run by Americans. Logan was given what seems like unlimited access to film the goings-on of the Escuela Caribe which, for the most part, seem to be less rigorous than the worst stories of juvy correction that you’ve ever heard about. Led by a Christian-based objective to put troubled young people back on the straight and narrow, the cushy dorm rooms and tropical weather, combined with the odd rude counselor telling someone to do five chin-ups for not displaying the right attitude, do not exactly measure up to Sean Penn in Bad Boys, but it’s possible that things will get worse when stories of the “QR” (Quiet Room) surface, with its hints of abuse (that are never adequately verified). What really becomes the focus of this documentary, however, is teenager David, who was sent to the institution not because he was a troubled youth but because his parents found out he was gay. Held against his will and longing for home, David is understandably unhappy with having been sent to this place for six weeks; what weakens this film’s incendiary accusations, however, is that Logan doesn’t find enough evidence to back up her thesis about the things she insinuates are going on at this school. I’m quite sure that this “correctional” institution and all those like it are more than suspicious, existing as they do beyond any kind of government regulation and likely promoting religious intolerance (not to mention that their skirting American laws by being situated in foreign countries is suspect on its own). Logan is all topic and no details, however, the instructions at Escuela Caribe never claims to be in any way interested in David’s sexual orientation, does not claim to rehabilitate gay people in any official capacity (though it is discussed) and Logan does not prove them to be liars. The therapy that is performed on all the inmates is manual labour and a lot of exercise (to some alarming degrees, it should be said), with one young person interviewed after the fact stating that going there was the best thing that ever happened to her. After six weeks of what amounts to (at least from what we see in this film) a regimen that is less intense than military boot camp training (hell, it’s less intense than the boot-camp training that wealthy middle-aged women pay personal trainers for), watching people talk to David as if he has been a Cambodian prisoner of war is a fascinating level of unacknowledged privilege that this movie does not attempt to examine.