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The Reeler Blog

What I Learned at Summercamp!

The headline is a little misleading, I admit. But only sort-of: Summer camp might have always appeared to be a far bigger deal in the Midwest and on the East Coast than it ever was for a California kid like me, but that big deal is crystallized in Summercamp!, opening today at IFC Center. Directors Bradley Beesley (The Fearless Freaks) and Sarah Price (American Movie) took their cameras to northern Wisconsin, trailing a spectrum of kids, overextended counselors and one particularly philosophical clown through the unalloyed seasonal drama of Swift Nature Camp.

To call Summercamp! honest is to understate its accomplishment; it's not hard to point cameras at a gathering of kids and get something eminently viewable. What Beesley and Price achieve, however, is a kind of invisible confessional that would make Al Maysles proud; between the handful of snapshotty Q&A interludes and cloying Flaming Lips tunes is a collage of an experiment. The filmmakers see everything, from the social development of communities, cliques and romance to the self-conscious ordeal of young Cameron, an overweight adolescent whose decidedly anti-social component is three-dimensionalized even as he strives for distance and, ultimately, isolation. A precocious Tom Clancy devotee emerges emboldened from the receiving end of a wedgie. Nothing is off-limits; pharmaceutical regimens are as commonplace as daydreams, and you are there on the gruesome occasions of fish hooks finding eyelids.

It's all rather fantastic, really, anchored by 20-something camp counselors whose child-psych backgrounds are quickly deduced during wracking episodes of discipline and comfort, alienation and fatigue. Another camper eschews Swift's clowning lessons lest she compromise her maturity, yet pride is a zero-sum game in Summercamp!, and everyone gets a chance to lose. But that's growing up -- whether or not you ever set a flip-flopped foot on the splotchy forest floor, these are your immediate and bittersweet memories. In its shuddering truth, Summercamp! dares to suggest that the grand disaster of youth as we knew it was actually... fun.

Posted at July 18, 2007 1:15 PM

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