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Mostly happy campers

August 31, 2007|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

Flapping fans may have been replaced by battery-operated spritzing whirrers, computers are missed as much as mommies, and attention deficit meds are as common as hot dogs and Jell-O, but the yearly school-break tradition of kids attending woodsy retreats continues.

Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price's soft, brisk and generally surface-deep documentary "Summercamp!" chases one group of Illinois-area children for three weeks at Wisconsin's Swift Nature Camp, where the hard work of keeping energetic kids busy, happy and focused -- one counselor brags that ADD "goes away" there -- is clearly a 24-hour-a-day gig. There's the sense, however, that the filmmakers have their own concentration problem, because too often we're whisked away from spending quality time with the film's pint-size subjects.

But brief bits of real charm, personality and camp-life detail squeeze through, suggesting why some thrive in an oasis of animal worship, outdoor revelry and zero-to-hero popularity that forgives a nerdy rep back home .

Then there's 13-year-old Cameron, a beefy, homesick outcast who is stuck between alienating peers on one side and disciplining counselors on the other.

Nestled in the hug of a camp employee who doesn't yet know that Cameron is about to be punished for connecting a hurled Hacky Sack to his tormentor's groin, he answers the nurturing counselor's question about what he likes about camp with the kind of heartbreaking logic only a child could come up with: "I like almost everything -- except the kids are mean to me."


"Summercamp!" MPAA rating: Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. (213) 617-0268.

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