Due to events beyond the control of filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, “The Boys of Baraka” isn’t quite the pic they obviously set out to make. As a result, this docu about a program to educate at-risk Baltimore youngsters at an African boarding school feels achingly sad and frustratingly incomplete. Lack of an entirely upbeat, feel-good wrap-up likely will dim theatrical prospects, though “Baraka” should be a fest staple until its 2006 PBS airdate.
Pic follows four youngsters chosen to attend 7th and 8th grades at Baraka, an experimental boarding school in Kenya, East Africa. Strict academic and disciplinary programs dissuade boys from succumbing to temptations that abound in Baltimore. Despite minor rebellions, most students appear to prosper in the new environment. Unfortunately, “Baraka” cannot follow subjects throughout the two-year program: Midway through the term covered in the pic, officials close the school because of political upheaval in Africa. Even more unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t find a satisfying answer to the question raised by more than one anxious parent: If the Baraka program has been so successful, why isn’t it being emulated closer to Baltimore?