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By Ashley Cooper | April 17, 2004

To those of you not living on the United States’ west coast or otherwise unacquainted, PeaceJam is an organization devoted to working with youths and promoting nonviolence. With active members such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, this organization has strong support and seems to be growing.

Referring to itself as a documentary, this film focuses on several people whose lives have been bettered from their involvement in PeaceJam. There are some absolutely harrowing tales told here. From a gang member who used to assault security guards while his friends looted grocery stores to a friendless and homeless lesbian who attempts suicide, the situations are all quite bleak. Perhaps the most poignant of the interviews comes with Richard Castaldo. Intersplicing his account with that of PeaceJam members with violent pasts, you are led to believe that Castaldo himself was violent. It is not until some time later that the reason for his involvement in this organization is uncovered. As the camera fades back from his close-up, it is revealed that Castaldo is wheelchair bound. A Columbine victim, he survived no fewer than nine gunshots. Today, however, Castaldo has moved past this incident and pursues his career as a musician.

Still, calling this movie a documentary is, strictly speaking, a bit of a stretch. Now, I’m not about to criticize this organization. With all the Nobel Peace Prize winners involved with it, who would even want to try? From what can be gathered from this film, PeaceJam certainly seems an admirable group that has helped many people in need. But, I’m here to judge movies, not organizations. “PeaceJam” as a documentary scarcely scratches the surface of what the group is all about. Instead, it has much more of a, “Come out and join us,” attitude. It barely mentions how the group was formed and does not explore in any great detail what PeaceJam does to change these troubled youths’ attitudes. Again, I’m not suggesting in any way that PeaceJam indoctrinates its members like some kind of cult. But, a real documentary would have investigated subjects such as this much further.

Though more of a promotional item than a true documentary, “PeaceJam” provides viewers some insight into this laudable institution.

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