Yet, despite their differing home lives, at camp, they are family. Jasmin and Jastrip respect each other, learn from their instructors, and coexist in harmony with all of the other campers/warriors. This is the aspect that is most relatable in Summerwar, especially if you’ve been to summer camp. At camp, your regular, non-camp life is left behind, and you are free to be yourself, play, and bond with your friends, some of whom you never see except for those few precious weeks at camp.
This is what the kids at the Azovez camp experience, but they do it with guns and ammunition with the explicit purpose of safeguarding their homeland and preserving its everlasting honor. As a western viewer, this is the most disturbing aspect of Summerwar, especially when you see Jasmin and her friends practically bursting with excitement at the prospect of using machine guns. You will cringe when, during Parent’s Day, a mother of one of the female campers beams with pride at how skillful her daughter is at cleaning the barrel of a rifle. But these children and their families exist in a culture of war that incentivizes their successes at military activities to be nothing short of valiant achievements.
“…dramatically more effective than if there was lots of explanation and commentary.”
Summerwar is presented in a cinéma vérité style that allows the spectator to observe but remain safely distant from the subjects. Schulz offers minimal interviews, and even his subjects’ confessional voiceovers are kept to a minimum. Schulz’s invisibility allows the juxtaposition of the laughing, smiling kids with the deadly brutality of their “fun and games” to be dramatically more effective than if there was lots of explanation and commentary.
The Azovez camp has all the trappings of your standard summer camp. However, rather than concentrating on friendships and making memories, it is focused on nurturing the next generation of Ukrainian militants—no Kumbaya or s’mores around the campfire at this place.
Summerwar screened at the 2020 DOC NYC.
"…no Kumbaya or s’mores around the campfire at this place."