Located in rural New South Wales, Australia, Backtrack is an organisation that offers an alternative to juvenile detention for youth who, for one reason or another, are doing it tough and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. A form of salvation, Backtrack has housed over 1,000 kids in its slightly more than a decade of existence and has contributed towards a significantly reduced crime rate. Founded by former jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft, who runs this unconventional but effective youth program and uses his dog-jumping team to help create a safe environment for the kids who inhabit the Backtrack home. Filmed over the course of two years, BACKTRACK BOYS is an observational documentary that follows a group of troubled boys and the ways in which their lives find hope of turning around.
The real people to commend here are the vulnerable, but mature and remarkable young subjects of this documentary. They need to know that they have just as much hope for a brighter future as anyone else does, they just need to work a little harder than most to make it happen. However, these young men and boys’ voices wouldn’t travel the distances they do without the initiative and resources of director Catherine Scott. She has taken the time required to intimately get to know her film’s subjects, who have all been victims to various forms of neglect and abuse, and plays a pivotal role herself in making these kids feel wanted and important.
The work that Bernie invests into the program and these kids doesn’t just exhibit the true care and love he transparently has for them, but is also a shining example of understanding how to really help individuals. This is a man who knows to first identify needs, provide a safe environment where people can be themselves and have freedom of expression in order to earn trust and knows the right times to listen, to ask questions and offer necessary support and guidance. He encourages and enables them to support one another and once these kids are ready, Bernie works with each individual to help discover and/or create a new pathway for when the day arrives that they choose to move forward from Backtrack. Furthermore, Bernie’s way of working can easily be undertaken by anyone and transferred to various forms of assistance that others may require. Quite simply, we need more Bernies in our world!
This Australian documentary also seizes an opportunity to question and challenge the process, decision making and value behind sending youth’s to jail. Its own content serves as a legitimate demonstration for how a completely different approach to the rehabilitation process of youths, which costs more time in listening, but far less in dollars, does indeed work. BACKTRACK BOYS might not necessarily be a cinematic production, but the insight it has to share deserves to be seen by cinemas packed with audiences. Need further convincing? BACKTRACK BOYS didn’t win the People’s Choice Award in Melbourne and the Audience Award in Sydney for Best Documentary Feature at the respective festivals this year by accident! So, will you make the time to listen?
3 ½ stars
MA15+ (Strong coarse language)
Moviedoc thanks Umbrella Entertainment and Annette Smith for the opportunity to the watch and review this film.