Directed, Produced and Written by: Catherine Scott
Consultant Producer: Madeleine Hetherton
Cinematographer: Catherine Scott
Composers: Kristin Rule, Jonathan Zwartz
Audience Award for Best Documentary, Sydney Film Festival
Audience Award for Best Documentary, Melbourne International Film Festival
Audience Award for Best Film, Stronger Than Fiction Film Festival, Canberra
Short List for AACTA Award for Best Documentary (final nominees and winner TBC)
Filmed over two years, Backtrack Boys is an observational documentary about Founder and CEO, Bernie Shakeshaft and his unique outreach program to help young kids to:
Stay out of jail
And to chase their hopes and dreams.
I was thoroughly charmed by this film – writer, director and cinematographer Catherine Scott allowing the story to speak for itself.
Growing up in the Northern Territory, Bernie was taught how to track dingos by Indigenous trackers from Tennent Creek.
Rather than tracking dingos from behind, chasing them, they taught Bernie to backtrack, to observe their behaviour to see where they’d been to see where they’d be tomorrow.
Bernie reckons they weren’t teaching him how to catch wild dogs but how to catch wild kids.
His outreach program is unique in that it’s all about giving board to young people, who’ve had trouble with the law and at home, to stay and train the many dogs on his property to become dog jumpers. Each kid is given a dog to train, or rather, the dog picks them: dogs don’t judge, they just keep coming back again and again.
I would have thought the group of mischievous kids would have hammed it up for the camera, unable to handle being filmed. But there’s a genuine insight captured here that tells of a level of comfort and openness with film maker, Catherine Scott, that allows us to see into this fragile world of rehabilitation as the kids open their hearts to Bernie and the volunteers; their struggle with anger and hurt and disappointments, and the consequences of lashing out.
Although the film could be used for teaching youth workers, I didn’t feel like I was under instruction – it was all about meeting the kids: Zac, Russell, Alfie, Sindi. And to be taken on a journey as they figure out their path in life.
Gentle and matter-of-fact Bernie, who states, ‘I’ve spent so much time with dogs that I think more like a dog than I think like a person’, is able to calm the kids to see reason so we’re shown moments like Zac sharing as they’re sitting around the camp fire that he wants to leave the world with no regrets; no hate in his heart.
We’re taken from the outskirts of Armidale in New South Wales where ‘Backtrack Boys’ is set-up surrounded by green paddocks with grazing sheep and horses, to country shows including the Wellington show where the boys show off the dogs’ jumping skills, and their own. To the detention centre where Tyrson’s waiting to get out and back on track again; to parliament and putting on a show at Government House; to Russell’s fear of going to court to face charges and the uncertainty of whether he’ll walk out again.
Seemingly simple, the film is a series of moments, as we’re shown what the quiet observer sees – the rewards of Bernie’s hard work with Rusty, wild and swearing and chewing gum in the morning to him later organising the bathroom and noting the need for more toothpaste after brushing his teeth.
It’s a sad and realistic documentary, making any break-through and win all the more sweet.
Click for more information about Backtrack Boys.
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