Directed by Catherine Scott, the documentary film Backtrack Boys focuses on three youths walking a rocky road to juvenile detention until they cross paths with big-hearted jackaroo Bernie.
Running a youth program from his shed in Armidale, NSW, Bernie Shakeshaft takes these troubled boys under his wing when everyone else has given up on them. He brings them to ‘Backtrack’, a rural haven where they can continue their education, learn to talk about their issues and support each other. Teaching them how to communicate and compete as part of Bernie’s renowned dog jumping team (“the right dog will pick the right kid”), you witness the hardships these boys have had to deal with and how the strong support system of the dogs, Bernie, and the volunteers transforms these boys.
Filmed over two years, it is a bittersweet story of growth and setbacks as these boys are at times, their own worst enemy. Beautifully shot, expansive landscapes together with the peacefulness of the country and the patience of rough-talking Bernie; Zach, Alfie and Rusty star as a generation of young Australians from the fringes of society eager to become more than their circumstances would suggest.
It would have been nice to see what happened next for the boys, as the film’s ending just kind of swims away. You are left wanting so much more, which is a credit to Scott’s storytelling style. I got invested in the journey the boys take, both literally and metaphorically. You are left hoping whatever happens next continues to enrich their lives on their way to adulthood.
Backtrack Boys won the Audience Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2018, receiving a standing ovation.