Shocking docu “Tranquility Bay” presents evidence of abuse at several behavior modification centers for troubled teens run by a Utah-basedcompany. The company’s Guantanamo Bay-style approach to education has been reported previously in the media, but this English-language pic by Gallic co-helmers Mathieu Verboud and Jean Robert Viallet provides an in-depth investigation that eschews sensationalism and builds a scrupulously mounted case against the org via moving interviews with victims and parents, as well as present and ex-employees. Applauded at the IDFA and Thessaloniki doc fests, “Bay” has yet to find a berth Stateside, where it will be of most interest.
Title refers to a center in Jamaica run by the World Wide Assn. of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP), one of several run by the org in countries outside U.S. jurisdiction. Former internees explain on camera that their drug use or rebelliousness frustrated their parents, who would pay (more than $30,000) to have the kids — some as young as 12 — forcibly taken away for behavior modification. Teens are kept for months or even years at a time at the centers until they are considered reformed enough to be returned to their families.
Interviewees explain how “students” are forced to lie motionless face-down on the ground for protracted periods each day, sometimes for months. Pepper spray is used by guards, as well as various forms of corporal punishment violent enough to leave a scar on one subject, who appears too shell-shocked to even speak on camera.
Perhaps the most harrowing sequence, shot by hidden camcorder, records an aunt’s attempt to persuade her niece to leave Tranquility Bay on her 18th birthday, but she comes up against a contravening phone call to the young woman from her dad.
Helmers Verboud and Viallet cover litigation brought by WWASP against a parent who started a Web site detailing alleged abuse by the organization at centers like Tranquility Bay. A recorded deposition includes comments by WWASP founder Robert Browning Lichfield, a prominent Utah businessman, and several employes, who assert the effectiveness of their methods.
Pic aims for journalistic balance, but the sheer bulk of the evidence presented weighs sympathies in favor of ex-internees and contrite parents. Ultimately, interviewees make the incisive point that such teen boot camps could only grow out of a culture that believes children must be perfect, and if not, they can be fixed like faulty goods.
Competently assembled tech package, achieving an upmarket TV-doc look, gets the message across without drawing attentionto itself.