DOC NYC FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Ah, summer camp. That magical parent-less place where friendships are forged, first loves are had, and dusk seems to last forever. Now, imagine that, along with afternoons spent swimming in the lake, there are machine gun tutorials, battle simulations, and military obstacle course drills. If you can envision what that must be like, then you can probably comprehend the camp experience at one of the Azovez camps in Ukraine.
Introductory title cards inform us that Ukraine has been at war with the Russians since 2014. The Azov Regiment, a voluntary group of far-right nationalists, has been fighting alongside Ukrainian troops to defend their country. In order to keep the Regiment staffed and at the ready with young, able-bodied soldiers, Azov hosts several summer camps throughout the year that are less soccer and volleyball and more along the lines of military boot camps for pre-teens.
“…along with afternoons spent swimming in the lake, there are machine gun tutorials, battle simulations, and military obstacle course drills.”
Moritz Schulz’s documentary, Summerwar, follows two adolescents as they prepare for and attend the two-week Azovez camp. Jasmin is, in many respects, a typical tween: she loves her daddy and enjoys hanging out with her friends. But make no mistake; Jasmin is an insurgent-in-training. She is the leader of her squad, The Addams Family, and doesn’t take crap from anyone. At one point, Jasmin’s young charges are clamoring for her attention, behaving like, well, young kids. Jasmin, having finally had enough, shouts, “Silence! If I have to scream once more, you’ll all be punished together.” Discipline at camp is of paramount importance and must be enforced and maintained.
Young Jastrip, meanwhile, couldn’t come from a more opposing background than that of Jasmin. Whereas Jasmin comes to camp from a loving home and a doting mom and dad, Jastrip’s parents barely know he’s there. In fact, it’s his grandmother with whom Jastrip seems to have the strongest relationship. It’s heartbreaking to watch the young boy try to call his mom during the day’s phone break and receive only a dial tone. Contrastingly, Jasmin excitedly relays to her mom how she was chosen to be one of the camp’s opening flag raisers.
"…no Kumbaya or s’mores around the campfire at this place."