The Movie Diary

Slipping into form

By Dom Cioffi

As of this past weekend, my son has reached the mid-way point in his month-long stay at a summer military camp. His mother and I struggled with the decision to send him to this camp, but ultimately decided the experience might deliver a few important messages that we weren’t necessarily getting across.

Don’t get me wrong – my son is a great kid and has zero disciplinary issues; this wasn’t a punishment on any level.

Basically, we felt that he needed a reality check. He’s become a fairly unmotivated 14-year-old and nothing we were doing or saying was making him see the need to kick his young adulthood into the next gear. He’s also let school slip into a low priority, several levels behind video games and sleeping.

We would have never considered this option had his cousin not attended the same camp and come out a much more confident and focused young man. I’m not expecting massive changes, but I do think pushing him out of his comfort zone for a few weeks might liven him up.

At the mid-way point in the camp, parents are invited to visit for a couple hours to spend some time with their sons. They also can check in with the teachers to see how their child is progressing with their summer studies (yes, school is a part of this adventure).

My wife and I were both excited to see our boy. Admittedly, our house has become painfully quiet. His absence and the curiosity about his condition kept us in constant dialogue, with each of us wondering how he was handling the day-to-day activities, which not only involved school, but also numerous outdoor activities like camping, whitewater rafting, and ziplining.

When we arrived, they summoned our son. After a couple minutes he came around the corner, hair cropped into a tight military cut, with a big smile on his face. He didn’t want to admit it openly, but he was excited to see us as well.

We hopped into the car and took a half hour ride to a nearby town where we planned to eat lunch and catch up. On the way, we peppered him with questions about the school, the other kids, and how the experience was unfolding.

He launched into several stories about kids being thrown out for a variety of disciplinary reasons, conquering his fear of heights on the climbing wall, and how competitive the basketball scene was. All in all, he seemed to be navigating the experience with a good level of success and a positive attitude.

We asked about the school program since this was our biggest concern, and he claimed to be doing well. He had just taken his mid-term tests that morning and was confident he would receive good grades. (I had thrown out a carrot prior to the start of camp, telling him that if he received all B’s or better, we would buy him a new drum set).

Over lunch we heard several more stories, some that made my wife’s toes curl (teenage boy stuff) and others that had us laughing out loud. It seems that not everyone at this camp was there by choice, with some kids ordered there as a last resort by parents or schools in a last-ditch effort to get them on track.

As such, there is an element present that my son isn’t used to hanging with. This frightened my wife, but I assured her that life requires us to be able to relate to all types and this experience would help him socially.
Right after lunch as we were getting into the car, my son announced that he needed to sleep. He proceeded to borrow my phone and then threw on a pair of headphones and within minutes was unresponsive in the backseat.

When we arrived back at the school, he ran up to his room to get a container for the snacks we brought him. While he was gone we relayed some of the stories our son had told us to the officer on duty. He confirmed several of them and laughed at a few others.

But just before our son arrived back, the officer told us how great he was and how he wished he had 10 more of him. He was adamant that our boy was doing a stellar job and that we should be proud. That short declaration sent us home with broad smiles and the belief that this experience was going to be a big success.

This week’s film, “Leave No Trace,” is about another teenager who is far away from home. In fact, this young woman hasn’t had a home in years.

Set in the mountainous region of the Pacific Northwest, “Leave No Trace” chronicles the life of a homeless father and daughter as they attempt to elude authorities to live life outside of the normal confines of society.
This is a rough, emotionally compelling film that speaks to the devastating effects of mental illness and its repercussions on family bonds.

This is a limited-release film so you may have to travel to see it. However, the effort will be rewarded as this picture is beautifully made, wonderfully acted, and full of quiet, dramatic sequences.

A reticent “B+” for “Leave No Trace.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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