Good intentions notwithstanding, “Seeds” never sprouts. A chaotic look at teens from different flashpoint cultures trying to find common ground while bunking together for 22 days at a U.S. summer camp, pic’s message of peace through understanding will play best on the special interest fest circuit and the small screen, with a modest harvest on homevid.
The non-profit “Seeds of Peace” program was founded in 1993 by journo John Wallach in response to that year’s World Trade Center bombing, and focuses on “empowering the children of war to break the cycle of violence.” Org’s principle activity is a summer camp program in rural Maine, which each year draws youngsters from Israel, Palestine, India, Pakistan and other troubled areas to discuss their differences while participating in time-tested camp activities for teens.
Pic begins as some 166 young people — called “seeds” — arrive at the 2002 edition of the retreat, the first to be held without Wallace, who has been diagnosed with cancer. After some strident exhortations from camp director Tim, who admits in founder’s absence “I’m not good at this,” usual arts-and-crafts rhythms unfold, peppered with politically-charged interviews and voiceover comments from a dozen or so campers, counselors and directors. “How can we talk with people that murder us?” wonders 14-year-old Israeli first-timer Adir, with the piercing honesty of the young. “Why should I go spend 23 days with Jews?” asks another, neatly charting the chasm between the various factions.
But talk they do, in a jumble of outdoor events, mutual trust exercises and heated “co-existence sessions” that play cumulatively like a verbose, geopolitical “Fear Factor” minus the grisly cuisine. “I’ve never felt free somewhere before,” enthuses 15-year-old Afghan rookie Weda, while brassy 15-year-old American soph Dustin proclaims “my conflict is getting no respect from people from other conflict areas.”
Despite reflexive bonding rituals employed by adolescents the world over, by day 10 it’s clear to counselors that something’s seriously wrong, and a flare-up over friction between Palestinians and Jews tears one co-existence session apart. On day 16, word comes that Wallach has succumbed, spurring kids to emotional consensus that “we’re not going to let him down.” Uplifting coda, set one year later, suggests at least a few of the young people have effected positive change in their lives.
Although program is noble idea, pic raises as many questions as it answers. Background info on Wallach, the overall program and counselor selection criteria would help, as would some idea of the methodology and goals used to structure the encounter groups. The essential synthesis between the traditional camp activities and the politically charged nature of this encounter remains frustratingly elusive.
Tech credits are adequate, with “Spellbound” editor Yana Gorskaya bringing her organizational talent to bear on what was obviously a wealth of material taped over a three-week period, with most of drama occurring in dark, cramped bunkhouses. Pic is primarily in English, with subtitling of the more rapid dialogue and an Afghan teenager.