Film Reviews: The Boys of Baraka and West Bank Story

After viewing a wide variety of extrardinary films at this year's Provincetown International Film Festival, two of them stood out for grasping the audience with a unique perspective.

The Boys of Baraka is a piercing documentary that follows the lives of four 'at risk' African American boys from inner city Baltimore who go to attend the Baraka school, an experimental boarding school in Kenya. Through extensive time with the boys in Baltimore and in Africa, the film captures the kids’ amazing journey and how they fare when they are forced to return to the difficult realities of their city filled with gangs and drugs.This is not only an opportunity for the boys to receive a better education, but this film gives a new perspective on a marginalized group that society has given up on. One issue I had with the film is the lack of interaction between with the boys and the native Africans. While a documentary can never show everything going on in a situation, the fact that this film doesn't show the boys coming into much direct contact with their African roots and their impressions of the natives for the whole year they were on the Continent was quite disappointing. Furthermore all the administrators and teachers are white, giving the film a neocolonialistic feel. This might be more of a criticism of the Baraka School rather than the filmmakers, but the racial dynamic in the film is quite obvious. Nonetheless, the film makes the point to show that African American males are an endangered species and more attention is needed on this critical group.

West Bank Story has a comical, romantic take on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Taking a page from West Side Story, this musical is about David, an Israeli soldier, and Fatima, a Palestinian fast food cashier - an unlikely couple who fall in love despite the animosity between their families' dueling falafel stands in the West Bank. Tensions mount when the (Israeli) Kosher King's new pastry machine juts onto (Palestinian) Hummus Hut property. The Palestinians ruin the machine and the Israelis respond by building a wall between the two eating establishments. The couple professes their love for each other, triggering a chain of events that destroys both restaurants and forces all to find common ground in an effort to rebuild, planting a seed of hope. The filmmaker makes great use of racial and cultural stereotypes to demonstrate that humor has the ability to conquer anger.


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