In the documentary Raising Bertie, director Margaret Byrne and her crew follow three underprivileged young black men for six years in North Carolina’s coastal Bertie County, unearthing triumphs and hardships with which the bulk of U.S. citizens may relate.
Unflinchingly objective, Byrne celebrates the various personal triumphs of Davonte "Dada" Harrell, David "Bud" Perry and Reginald "Junior" Askew, allowing their sense of accomplishment to shine through, but presents their shortcomings with an equal lack of judgment from behind the camera.
The respect for her subjects yields an exceptional level of trust and comfort from the interviewees, who in turn allow the filmmaker into their lives, seemingly rarely holding back their true selves.
Though the more reserved Harrell is the most likely candidate to be keeping his proverbial cards close to his chest, the extroverted Perry and Askew are generous in their observations, though very well may be masking vulnerabilities in their purported honesty.
Askew in particular operates as an open book, most notably in a sequence where he goes around town filling out job applications. Cringe-worthy in that there’s little chance he’ll receive an offer, the upbeat teen seems in on the joke to an extent through his readiness to lighten the mood with a self-deprecating comment.
Entertaining as these slice-of-life tangents are, at the core of Raising Bertie is the youths’ futures, imbued with hope from their time at The Hive alternative school and heartbreak when authority figures don’t see the value that such a place brings to students for whom a traditional public education is ill-fitting.
Maddening though their paths often are, there remains a feeling that all three young men are learning from their mistakes and those of others, and are on the way to brighter days once Byrne stops filming.
Were she to revisit them down the line and keep their stories going Up series style, she’d hear few complaints.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but with adult language and themes. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Kartemquin Films)