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21st March
written by Mad Cow

cowbells4Mad Cow’s Rating: 4 cowbells (out of 4)

               I have often said that teenagers should all be shipped off to an island until they are 21, but I’ll never say that again. I was jokingly referring to the awful time teens have, the conflicts, raging hormones, and whatnot. Countless parents wring their hands about their children’s behavior and attitudes during their teenage years, not to mention worrying about their safety. This movie, about kids who are sent away, has cured me of making this meant-to-be-amusing remark.

               This documentary was directed by Kate Logan, a film student who went to the Dominican Republic to film the goings-on at a Christian program for teens. As she gets to know the kids and the regime at the center, her faith is challenged and an expose begins. The teens have all been sent by their parents who agreed that they be “kidnapped,” i.e. picked up suddenly in the middle of the night with no chance to make plans or say good-by to anyone. The “behavior modification” program to which they are subject is abusive and sick, all in the name of Christianity.

               We see the program mostly through the story of David, a lovely young man, smart and personable. He got top grades and was beloved by his friends but his parents paid lots of money to send him away so he wouldn’t be gay anymore. I personally have known gay people who were placed in mental hospitals by their parents when they were teens, but that was 40 years ago.

It’s clear that the kids in the program are there for lots of reasons, some due to substance abuse and others with mental problems. Nevertheless they are all subjected to beatings, severe behavioral expectations, and what can only be seen as brainwashing. We meet David after his time in the place and know that his life has been changed forever because of this cruelty. One can only wonder about the women and men who came into the program already suffering from psychological problems.

               Logan has a bright future ahead of her. Put in a strange position she did all the right things, both cinematically and humanely. The movie is well paced and edited and we get a good picture in spite of the difficult circumstances in which it was shot. Many staff members and several teens are interviewed. Her timing and editing are superb. Logan has already won an award for the movie. It’s also worth noting that the second in command was writer/producer Yada Zamora, a first generation Cuban American. White women and men and women of color are still struggling to be seen in the film industry. Kudos to these two.

In the film, which I urge you to seek out, we learn that there is no government regulation of these “Christian” residential programs and there are hundreds of them throughout the country. Logan is promoting the “Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act.” You can read about it on her website

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