Australian filmmaker Catherine Scott makes a heartfelt documentary that looks into how troubled kids can be taken in and taught responsibility by caring for and training dogs.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
BackTrack Boys is about a rehabilitation program for troubled youths in New South Wales run by straight-talking Bernie Shakeshaft. The documentary follows three troubled kids, Zak, Tyrson, and Rusty who are all part of the Backtrack program, and their journey in and out of trouble as they struggle to take the lessons they learn through the program and apply them to their dysfunctional home life.
Similar to documentaries focused on groups of people like Jesus Camp and Dying to Live, what really makes BackTrack Boys a documentary worth watching are the characters featured. Director Catherine Scott does a brilliant job at drawing out the personalities of the three featured children and the harsh environments they have grown up in, which would have more than likely led them to a life in jail. Whether it be good-natured Zak who has worked his way through the Backtrack program to become a leader; Tyrson who regressed after leaving the program and wound up in jail for a couple of years; and the youngest of the group, Rusty whose foul-mouthed, tall tales are tolerated by the others as they realise he’s just a young kid who hasn’t had the easiest start to life.
The program itself is interesting in that Shakeshaft pairs the kids with a dog that they are expected to train, feed and prepare for local shows in events like high jump wall. The idea is that the dogs don’t judge the kids but instead give them a sense of responsibility. Intermingled in this are campfire heart-to-hearts, where the boys share stories, their feelings and fears when they’re ready to. It’s group theory done in a trusting environment and it’s Shakeshaft straight-talking both around the campfire and in private with the boys that helps them take responsibility for their actions, and more importantly, their lives.
The documentary is beautifully shot and Scott manages to get access to a lot of areas to really capture the kids’ realities (including the juvenile prison). Ultimately the documentary is about second chances and showing that there are alternatives for troubled kids, and that whilst these alternatives might be a bit left of field, they may just be the best circumstances for these kids to learn and grow into responsible adults.
BackTrack Boys is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 (Western Australia limited release 27th -29th Oct)
Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment