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SXSW Film

The Great Escape: 'Summercamp!'

They're all regular kids ages 6 to 15. Some are superstars and some are troublemakers. But they've all come to the same place: Swift Nature Camp – "Where Nature Is Fun" – an old-school sleepaway summer camp in Minong, Wisc., where they will learn about songbirds, step on one another's sandcastles, air-guitar "Smoke on the Water," and fart with their armpits. Documentarians and former summer campers Sarah Price (Caesar's Park and The Yes Men) and Bradley Beesley (the Austin-based helmer of SXSW favorites like Okie Noodling and The Fearless Freaks) lived among 90 of these boys and girls, and the result is Summercamp!: a respectful, contemplative, and often blithe portrait of kids being kids. The film shows an intense experience of social bonding and watches the kids thrive.

"Most of the kids were from the Chicago suburbs, and a lot of them didn't necessarily fit in with their junior highs," Beesley explains. Camp was "a safe place for them to come and be able to be popular for a few weeks.

"A lot of the kids who made the final cut were kids who really didn't have a lot of friends, so they liked to talk to the filmmakers," he adds. "These kids were befriending us and sharing information because they trusted us and because we'd been with them for three to four weeks. That makes you feel good, and that's sort of the goal of a documentary filmmaker – to obtain some trust with the subject."

Neither Price nor Beesley expected to find that so many kids were on psychiatric medication. "When Sarah and I were kids, that just wasn't an option," he says. "I didn't know anybody who was on medication, and now these kids are boasting, 'I've had this, and I've had that, and I've been on this antidepressant and Ritalin,' and that was really shocking."

Yet as one of the counselors observes onscreen, "ADD goes away at camp." Price suggests, "This kind of an environment opens kids up, so regardless of what's going on in their lives, they have the space to deal with their situation, their issues." Having the chance to "explore other things besides the computer" and traipse through the woods with a butterfly net, Price says, "is something that kids don't do during the school year. They're sitting a lot, they're regimented by their parents, and the kids in the film say that this is their chance to get away from it all."

11am, Paramount

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