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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Filmed over two years by director Catherine Scott, Backtrack Boys was voted the top feature documentary at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Backtrack Boys follows jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft as he oversees a youth program (Backtrack) from his farm in Armidale in rural NSW. Backtrack is run out of Shakeshaft’s shed, a place for troubled kids to safely continue their education while learning trust and support for one another and how to have faith in a world that has forgotten them.
When Shakeshaft recruits Zac, Alfie and Rusty to join him on a cross-country journey with his famed dog-jumping team, it’s the last chance for the three boys to halt a quick journey to gaol and prove to the world that they are more than just delinquents with no future. Scott follows the group as they engage with the Backtrack program, with each story being as heartbreaking as the last. Take Rusty for example who has had a tough start in life with his mum dying not long after he was born, leaving his dad to raise him by himself. Rusty swears as a way of letting off steam, alongside occasionally throwing things and the odd bout of aggression – all things that the Backtrack program aims to curb.
Scott’s camera manages to capture some beautiful, intimate moments of the boys with their dogs and the challenges and triumphs they face as they try to find their place in the world. One boy sleeps in a swag with a dog right by his side. Another boy, almost dwarfed by the Great Dane he is paired with, works hard to teach the dog some fantastic tricks.
Ultimately Backtrack Boys is a bittersweet story of growth and setbacks as these boys are at times, their own worst enemies. It is difficult not to become invested in the journey the boys take, both literally and metaphorically. The audience is left hoping whatever happens next continues to enrich their lives on their way to adulthood.