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Sunday, August 25, 2013

'Camp:' The Gospel According to Kirk Cameron

Camp (2013) Poster
This review of the 2013 indie flick "Camp," which is being released on August 27 2013, is part of the trinity of real and fictional camps about which Unreal TV has dedicated posts. A recent essay on the fictional Little Otter Family Camp from NBC's summer series "Camp" discussed real-life experiences at Camp Interlocken outside Hillsboro New Hampshire.

The most important message from this review of the film "Camp" is that this movie should be mandatory viewing for every North American child between the ages of eight and fourteen. Seeing the hardships of the campers in the film will make every child with even an ounce of compassion value the quality of his or her life.

Any youngster who sees "Camp" and then whines about denied requests to upgrade an iPhone to the newest model or not having the latest fashions seriously should be required to spend the summer volunteering at a camp like the one that the film depicts.

"Camp" the film tells the story of the relationship between a badly abused and neglected boy named Eli who is in foster care and the ambitious financial advisor named Ken who is Eli's one-on-one counselor for the week at a local church's camp for foster children.

Eli's back story is that his mother, who dies of a heroin overdose several weeks before camp begins, neglects and emotionally abuses him during her life. Eli's father is a drug dealer who physically abuses him to a degree that requires hospitalization.

Ken's less-than-altrustic reason for volunteering is to curry the favor of a wealthy potential client who supports the camp. Beyond not liking children and lacking much overall patience and compassion, unhappy camper Ken initially does not make any form of good faith effort to fulfill his volunteer responsibilities. Ala children and dogs all over the world, Eli immediately picks up on this disdain and reacts accordingly.

Predictably, Ken and Eli bond during the week and are both the better for it.

The overall theme of the film is the Dickensian rough life of the foster kids for 51 weeks each year and the chance to experience the joys of childhood and the love of caring adults during the week at camp. (To a far lesser degree this is the magic of camp for all of us fortunate enough to have this experience.) This is one way that the rest of us learn to appreciate the care that are often far-from-perfect parents provide during our formative years.

A very cool personal camp experience relates to having had a younger brother/older brother relationship with then-teen Dan Zanes.

Zanes, who apparently inspired the hilarious short-lived sitcom "Z Rock" by going from singing and playing guitar with '80s band  Del Fuegos to becoming a kids' performer, worked in the camp kitchen and sang "Rockin' Robin" and other doo wop with his fellow galley slaves in an acapella group called The Kitchenettes. An autographed photo of Zanes and a cassette of The Kitchenettes is stashed somewhere in a box with an Atari game system.

Zanes' brother and bandmate Warren was a fellow resident of Cabin Five. Warren's post-Del Fuegos career included heading up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One great summertime moment from "Camp" is a civilized tea party becoming a free-for-all. Another relates to campers passing a swim test that is designed to teach them that they can hope, that they can dream, and that they are full of self-esteem.

The depicted deprivations extend well beyond being deprived of the Interlocken and teen idol turned evangelist Kirk Cameron endorsed peace, love, and understanding much of the year.

The stories that are shared include that Eli has never celebrated a birthday, that the only footwear that one girl has is a pair of sneakers that are two sizes too small, and that one child's existence is so bad that he genuinely believes that he is alien and that a mother ship will arrive to return him to his home planet.

It is particularly sad to learn through interviews with real-life camp volunteers that run during the closing credits that many of the stories in "Camp" are based on actual events. Seeing that kids actually lead such deprived lives is extraordinarily eye-opening and sad.

The film and real-life stories also prompt admiration for the volunteers. Beyond logistical hurdles, honest reflection reveals a genuinely shameful inability to deal with these challenging kids, and to spend a week in the primitive conditions which has lights but generally lacks motor cars and phones or any other single luxury. Additionally, the food looks virtually inedible.

The good news is that "Camp," which is produced by the Christian production company Word Films, is mostly not too preachy and largely stays away from being heavy handed; the bad news is that the couple of occasions on which the film deeply strays into that territory are really awful from the perspective of us agnostics and atheists whose faith is less strong than the folks who wrote and produced the film.

A scene in which a retired soldier who is a model counselor comes down very hard on Ken is so over-the-top that it elicits uncontrollable laughter. For that matter, the soldier absurdly takes the Army theme a bit too far in that he calls Ken and every camper "soldier," refers to the hardships of military life on several occasions, and virtually never shows whimsy.

Another scene in which camp director Tammie Parker and Ken fairly abruptly start discussing faith disturbs the rhythm of the film. Truly no offensive is intended regarding the entity that millions of people validly believe created the earth and look out for all of us in placing God in the same category as Subway sandwiches and Toyota cars, but blatant product placement is always annoying.

The primary purpose of any video entertainment is to relax and enter an alternate universe. Having any obvious ad intrude breaks the mood.

The end-of-summer report regarding the film "Camp" is that it is one of the few genuinely family-friendly movies out there; as mentioned above, it also makes anyone with even a speck of humanity to feel for foster kids and want to erect monuments to the adults who care enough to show their love on a daily basis and/or spend a week living under highly unpleasant conditions to make their lives a little brighter.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding either "Camp" the film, the series, or the now-renamed Camp Interlocken is welcome to email me. You are also invited to follow me via Twitter through @tvdvdguy.