When director Kate Logan was a film school freshman, she set out to make a documentary about the Christian youth camp Escuela Caribe. The young Evangelical thought she was making a feel-good movie about the camp, which brought troubled teens to the mountains of the Dominican Republic. But what the 20-year-old film student found during her seven weeks at the camp would shock her to her core and begin a seven-year saga that would culminate with Kidnapped For Christ, the 2014 Outflix Film Festival's opening film.
Escuela Caribe is part of a chain of similar camps that promise parents that they can change their teenagers' behavior for the better — for a hefty fee. But the reality is much uglier than advertised. The film opens with kids' stories of being kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night by unknown thugs and taken, sometimes in chains, to the airport against their will, often while their parents looked on. Once out of the country, they are subjected to a program of brainwashing that will be familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Escuela Caribe had been in existence for 35 years by the time Logan spent her fateful six weeks there, and at some point in the past, the place had gone from Bible study camp to Stanford Prison Experiment. Committing your child to a work camp is a pretty extreme measure for a parent to take, but none of the kids Logan interviews seem messed up enough to warrant it. There's Beth, who claims she is there to cure panic attacks; Tai, whose offenses seem like nothing more than run-of-the-mill teenage hellraising; and David, a 17-year-old honor student who was shipped off after coming out to his parents as gay.
Kidnapped for Christ is like a more paranoid version of Morgan Jon Fox's landmark documentary This Is What Love In Action Looks Like. As stories of brutal abuse at the camp proliferated, Logan's vision of her project changes until she makes a fateful decision to become involved in the story by attempting to rescue David from the camp. The story's unexpected twists and turns make it one of the more satisfying, and harrowing, documentaries of the year.