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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 3.23%
Average: 19.35%
Pretty Bad: 3.23%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 25 user ratings

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Troop 1500
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by Chris Parry

"'You're mom's in prison!' .... 'Yeah, but so is yours.'"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: In Gatesville Texas, there's a strange group of girl scouts, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else. They want to be doctors, social workers, marine biologists, and they work damn hard at making themselves better people than they started as, but that's not what makes them different. Their biggest difference is that the troop meets every month... in prison.

The folks who work with numbers say that an estimated 1.5 million American children have parents sitting in a prison cell tonight. They further state that 90% of the female prisoners in that number are single parents. Following the statistics a further step, we find that the daughters of those women are six times more likely to end up in prison than their friends. So what can be done to stop that snowball of cause and effect? Ask Troop 1500.

The Girl Scouts have been around for 90 years and then some, but such organizations aren't usually known for their progressive ideas and willingness to embrace change. That's maybe what makes it so intriguing that the Girl Scouts Organization has decided to experiment with a troop of girls with mothers in prison, holding their monthly troop meetings on prison grounds, so as to allow the mothers to work at their relationship with their daughters. The thinking goes that by bringing the two groups - prisoners and their children - closer together, with real mother-daughter activities, that they can both learn from one another that they're not alone, and that they have ample reason to stay out of the joint.

Does it work? Well, the jury is out, and will be until the girls involved are old enough to have made their lifestyle choice - follow mom or stay in school - but the short term effects are easy to see in this well-made, beautifully shot documentary. While some mothers seem almost unable to stay clean, others have nothing more in their lives but that monthly visit, and exhibit real determination to get out and fly straight. Directors Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein steer clear of the easy sensationalism of such a program and instead spend several years following the path of the girls involved, getting the kind of behind the scenes access that shows the audience far more than we expect. When the girls interview each other, what you hear is more than platitudes, with genuine heartbreak splayed on the screen.

Which is not to say this is the perfect documentary. In fact, it's a distinct love for all involved that keeps the directors from really pushing deep into the reasons these women get in prison in the first place, and what negative effect these experiences might have on the children. Obviously you can't keep the cameras rolling in perpetuity, but at some point you have to move away from the slo-mo art shots of smiling children with hair blowing in the wind and get into the nitty gritty - damn it, woman, what the hell is wrong with your felony-committing ass that you can leave this kid alone for ten years while you get yourself 'rehabilitated'?

Troop 1500 would win every documentary award going for cinematography, art direction and style, but there's a major ingredient that it lacks that stops me from giving it a glowing five-star review, and that's impatience. The answers to many questions asked just aren't found here, because we're instead cavorting through the daisy-sprouting lives of happy children, showing them at play, listening to them giggle. Sure, at some point a filmmaker has to decide what kind of film they're making, and Spiro and Bernstein have clearly decided to make Troop 1500 a celebration of the female spirit, but that's a little too Saturday afternoon special for my tastes, and in the end I was left wanting more answers. Maybe on the DVD, eh?

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originally posted: 03/22/05 09:52:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/07/05 hillary hawkins awesome 5 stars
4/07/05 Ian M. Ball Awesome 5 stars
4/06/05 Marilyn Spiro Extraordinary 5 stars
4/06/05 Darcee Douglas Loved it! 5 stars
4/06/05 Andrew Marcus Gorgeous cinematography, complex treatment of subject. 5 stars
4/06/05 simone extraordinary film in content and form 5 stars
4/06/05 Terry Saks Superb -- shows real feelings of the subjects, does not need to answer questions! 5 stars
4/06/05 Jennifer Robenalt I saw this at SXSW, and I cried my eyes out. So did the row of filmgoers behind me. 5 stars
4/05/05 Scott Lilly simply amazing 5 stars
4/05/05 Spencer Dean Awesome film! 5 stars
4/05/05 Bart Weiss really great a must see 5 stars
4/05/05 Jack Spiro Fabulous, spell-binding, awesome 5 stars
4/05/05 Giovanni & Frida We eat film critics for lunch !!! 5 stars
4/05/05 Margaret Bills Fabulous, Moving and Real 5 stars
4/05/05 Bernard Moskowitz Complicated and compassionate, a remarkable film that respects its subjects. 5 stars
4/05/05 Marcia Berger Spiro has a history of making fantastic docs but this is her best. 5 stars
4/05/05 Rick Paul Gut-wrenching, great music, great cinematography, powerful content. 5 stars
4/05/05 christa black THE BEST film at the festival and I saw ALL the docs! 5 stars
4/05/05 Margaret White The best film I have seen. Better than Born Into Brothels! 5 stars
4/05/05 Alejandro Diaz This film blew my mind. Beautifully shot, emotionally wrencing. 5 stars
4/05/05 Jenna Solomon Amazing film, academy award material. 5 stars
3/20/05 Claire Saunders Eye opening - Clearly, Girl Scouts is more than cookies, crafts and camping. 4 stars
3/17/05 Steve K Well done, Heart wrenching 5 stars
3/14/05 pooper Much buzz, and a lot of style, but not much else. 2 stars
3/14/05 Sherry Peel This film highlights the heroism and vulnerability of girls and their mothers. 5 stars
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