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Independent Indies – Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story

Posted on May 18, 2009 by | 0 comments

I never really went to summer camp. Their were the occasional church related excursions, but those typically never lasted more then a week at the very most. Probably the closest to a summer camp atmosphere was when my family would rent a cabin on Clear Lake in Iowa. My parents and several of their friends would pool their money and resources so they could rent these huge cabins where everyone could stay. With everyone dividing up the cost it meant you could for a few days or a full week with minimal financial strain. It was a grand old time where the other kids and I would spend our days fishing and swimming as the adults played card games and occasional put in the occasional nine holes of golf.

Of course my father, who to this day still falls comfortably in the realm that exists between childhood and adulthood, spent his time antagonizing both groups, often chopping off the heads of the bullheads we caught and performing impromptu finger puppet shows with them. But this life experience is quite different then the one experienced by the kids and young adults who attend Camp Ojibwa experience on a yearly basis.

Camp Ojibwa is an interesting place. For most of the summer it is no different then any other summer camp. But during the final weeks that the campers will spend there, it is transformed by the coming of Collegiate Week, a week long sporting event in which seemingly every campers hopes, dreams and futures rests.

In spite of my lack of summer camp exposure it was fairly easy for me to relate to the competitive nature of the characters in the film. I played sports throughout High School and College and I certainly know how strong the elixir of competition can be. Early on Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story shows plenty of footage of how unhinged many of the participants can become during the course of the week, and it does an excellent job of setting the stage for the upcoming week, though the film might have been better served to have more footage of the campers during their time at Ojibwa before Collegiate Week turns them into a pack of rabid jackals. But director Louis Lapat was noticeably handicapped when trying to select subjects for the film, because neither the Team Coaches, nor even the team members are known beforehand. In spite of this inherent drawback, Lapat still manages to find multiple subjects and story lines that are fascinating to follow.

But one of the most interesting, and unexpected, developments of the film is that it never demonizes the camp or Collegiate Week, nor do the participants or those running the camp comes across as crazed outside the titular week. Time and again the camp organizers note that the goal is for these kids to not only learn how to win and lose, but interact, socialize and work as a team with their fellow teammates. While the ultimate goal of Collegiate Week is to win the entire competition, there is undoubtedly a wealth of positive reinforcement running throughout the competition. I came in expecting Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story to focus on something far more sinister, but the path it chose to take was just as fascinating to witness.

Perhaps nothing underscored this more then the Stunt Night portion of Collegiate Week. While the rest of the week focuses on athletic dominance, the event worth the most points, and the one that always decides the winner of Collegiate Week, is an academic and artistic venture. It is this subtle reminder that while sports are often the focus, that there is more to life the them, and your success in life often hinges on those instead.

Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story will be screening on May 31 in Highland Park, IL. For more details on this screening and future screenings, go to




Matt Gamble
I review movies. I run a movie theatre. I annoy people. I let my dogs lick my face whenever they want. Sometimes I'm even a halfway decent human.
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