Victor Buhler’s journeyman docu takes viewers deep into “Island Academy,” the euphemistically titled high school in Gotham’s infamous Rikers Island prison, for alook at education behind bars. Following three teenage inmates through graduation and beyond, Buhler gets close enough to his three likeable subjects for auds to root for them while providing a clear overview of the forces arrayed against all teen offenders, who face a staggering 80% recidivism rate. French co-produced docu, a “NY, NY” prize winner at Tribeca, could enlighten fests before matriculating at Showtime.
In jail for crimes that range from arson to robbery, Buhler’s trio includes a would-be rapper, a sci-fi graphic artist and the school’s philosopher/poet valedictorian. Encouraged by dedicated counselors and teachers while inside the joint, there is little follow-up on the outside, and graduates find that a hard-won GED is no defense against poorly paid, hard-to-get jobs, dysfunctional families, pregnant girlfriends and widespread indifference. Pic’s straight-on approach brings home the fragility of ex-cons’ new dreams when stacked against the sheer weight of reality.