Amsterdam News Review

September 30, 2010

We were very happy to receive the review, linked here, in the Amsterdam News this morning in advance of the PBS air date here in metro-NYC.  Our film will air on channel Thirteen on October 2nd at 1:30 PM.

One of our favorite lines from the piece written by Stephon Johnson:

“It’s the perfect backdrop to once again show the country that the image of Black men and young Black males is distorted in America.”


From WOSU Arts Blog

August 13, 2010

With our program airing tonight on Idaho Public Television I was delighted to read this message from Stacia at WOSU out of Ohio State in Columbus.  The link is here.

A Fork in the Trail

July 26, 2010

This week 40,000 Scouts will flock to Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia for the National Scout Jamboree.  This year a drama smolders:  will Barack Obama, the Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, make an appearance?  Most Presidents (but not all) visit the Jamboree to give Scouting a boost.  This year’s celebration has special significance:  it is the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts.   If Obama doesn’t attend it will be a clear sign that the Boy Scouts have problems.

For eighty years supporting the Boy Scouts was a political no-brainer.  Elected officials from both sides of the aisle embraced the Scouts. It was easy: the values of the Boy Scouts lined up exactly with the values and aspirations of mainstream America.  But over the last ten years, things have changed.

The core of the problem is the Boy Scout policy that bars gays and atheists from leadership. In 2000 this issue came to a head at the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale.  Assistant Scoutmaster James Dale was expelled from Scouting when it was made public that he was gay.  The Boy Scouts won the case and affirmed their right to discriminate against gays as a private organization.  The problem is that the Boy Scouts is not an ordinary private organization.

The Boy Scouts of America is technically private but–like the Red Cross, Fannie Mae and the United States Olympic Committee–it was granted a Charter by Congress. With Barack Obama as Honorary President and backed up by a Congressional Charter the Boy Scouts of America enjoys a special status in our society.  The Charter is also the basis of a muscular intellectual property approach used to “protect the brand.”  The Boy Scouts of America have registered dozens of exclusive trademarks including “Be Prepared,” “Scoutmaster,” “Merit Badge,” and “Scouting.” Unlike France and Germany, which have a variety of Scouting programs with different membership rules, there is only one brand of Boy Scout in America.

This means that the Boy Scouts have it both ways.  They enjoy a government-sponsored monopoly and, like a private club, they get to discriminate against gays and atheists.  No wonder Barack Obama is taking his time to decide whether he wants to attend their 100th Birthday Jamboree.

Sooner or later the Boy Scouts of America will need to make a decision.  It can follow the lead of the US military (lead by Distinguished Eagle Scout Robert Gates) and change the discriminatory policies.  Or it can cut ties to our government, retreat into a niche and recognize that their values no longer represent all of us.

Justin Szlasa
Eagle Scout & producer/co-director
759: Boy Scouts of Harlem
justin (at)

New Public Television Air Dates for CA, FL, ID, KY, MD, MI, NH, NC, OH, & OR

July 8, 2010

An updated list of when the show will air on Public Television Stations around the country on our events page.

In time for the Jambo: Boy Scouts of Harlem patches are here!

June 24, 2010

The “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” patch has arrived.

Designed by our own Jake Boritt and created by Rob Faurot at the venerable Chicago Embroidery Company, the handsome design will no doubt be much-coveted at the National Jamboree this summer.  Right now we are including a patch with DVDs that are purchased on our site or you can order a pack of five for $12.50 plus shipping and handling here.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts screening series/Boston Globe review

May 24, 2010

“a genial documentary…Boritt and Szlasa have talent”
Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

Yes, we are in the middle of our run at the fantastic theater at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and were happy to have a review in the Boston Globe.

Sure, the reviewer mixed up some of our subject’s names and relationships and Jake never was a Scout and it was Manny combing Keith’s hair (or Ms. Ann giving KC braids) but we were happy to get some positive attention, a very nice quote and 2.5 stars out of 4 which actually is pretty good in the Boston Globe’s world. Anyway, almost all working film critics are stretched thin (and my guess is the Globe is short on fact-checkers) so we were happy Mr. Morris could knock out this review between screenings at Cannes.

From afar, it seems like Cannes is all parties and red carpets but anyone who has ever been at a festival knows that for people like Mr. Morris it is serious work.

If you are interested you can read the whole “759” review here.

Happy 100th BSA from the Village of Harlem

February 13, 2010

On February 8th, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 100th birthday.  With the help of Hellura Lyle of Docwatchers and the Maysles Cinema we had our own party in Harlem and free screening of “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” in the community where it was made.

We were lucky to have Anthony Thomas, the two millionth Eagle Scout and his parents with us–all the way from their home in Minnesota.  Photographed below, from left to right, is: filmmaker Justin Szlasa, Assistant Scoutmaster Ann Dozier, Scoutmaster Okpoti Sowah, Eagle Scout Anthony Thomas, Colin Byers, Aubrey Byers and filmmaker Jake Boritt.

We were also lucky to have the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Charlie Rangel, join us for the film.  He has been serving the Harlem community for about as long as Mr. Sowah and before that he served our country in Korea where he was awarded a Purple Heart.  After the screening Charlie said of Troop 759: “This is just one of the diamonds that we polish to help our kids learn discipline and how to respect each other and to get along.”  We couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Rangel!  Thank you for your support.

NY Post opinion piece for 100th Anniversary

February 8, 2010

Here is a piece I wrote for the New York Post that was published earlier today.

The full text is below:

Today is the 100th birthday of the Boy Scouts of America. But the cen tennial will likely pass with little fan fare in New York City, where of one of America’s largest youth organizations has become practically invisible — a loss, especially, to the city’s most needy youth.

You can still find some Boy Scouts in New York, but the number has dwindled; last year, Manhattan had fewer than 500 registered Boy Scouts with fewer than 4,500 citywide.

Forgotten are scouting’s deep roots in New York. In 1910, the organization set up its first national headquarters at 200 Fifth Ave., just off Madison Park in the building later known as the Toy Center. That year, Teddy Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller lauded Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, at a dinner held in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Back then, the scouts had friends in high places here. In 1927, Franklin Roosevelt, then head of the New York City Boy Scout Foundation, arranged a deal to buy 11,000 acres of land along the Delaware that would become Ten Mile River Scout Camp — one of the largest in the world.

In 1952, Eleanor Roosevelt presented an award to the 250,000th Scout to attend Ten Mile River. In the early ’60s, more than 12,000 New York scouts camped there each summer.

Last summer, fewer than 1,400 city scouts camped at Ten Mile River. The venerable Camp Pouch on Staten Island is up for sale. And the national headquarters left Fifth Avenue long ago — the organization is now run from an office park in Texas.

A legal victory for the national group was the latest setback for New York City scouts. In spring 2000, Boy Scouts won the right to exclude gays from membership — a policy roughly equivalent to that of the US military.

New York institutions reacted by abandoning the Boys Scouts. City government barred them from meeting or recruiting in public schools. Politicians, celebrities and business leaders who had long championed scouting abandoned the program. Charitable donations — which mostly helped boys in poor neighborhoods — slowed to a trickle.

The decline doesn’t matter much to affluent kids; they have plenty of options. But for boys from lower-income families, scouting may be their only chance to camp in a tent, swim in a lake, hike up a mountain or learn to save a life.

This is certainly true for the scouts of Troop 759 in Harlem. Scoutmaster Okpoti Sowah, an immigrant from Ghana who came to New York to study at Columbia, has been a leader for more than 30 years in a neighborhood that needs male role models. His scouts have backpacked the deserts of Philmont, the wilds of Maine and the Adirondack high peaks.

Sowah pushes boys to succeed. Most of his troop members go to college; many achieve Eagle Scout.

If a boy has been in the scouts at least five years, there is a 91 percent chance he will finish high school. He is nearly twice as likely as a nonscout to earn a college degree and can expect to earn almost a third more.

Prominent ex-scouts abound in New York business and politics: Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Rep. Gary Ackerman, Wall Street great John Whitehead and entrepreneur Earl Graves are Eagle Scouts.

Mayor Bloomberg, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, writes in his biography that “Boy Scout Summer Camp was the highlight of the year . . . It was where I learned to be self sufficient, and simultaneously, to live and work with others.”

In other words, scouting produces success. It’s a tremendous shame that New York has allowed the culture wars to deny that hope to its children.

Justin Szlasa is an Eagle Scout and pro ducer of the documentary “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem.”

A Letter from Lancaster

February 3, 2010

Good Morning

The film Boy Scouts of Harlem demonstrates the incredible power of the Boy Scout program to build self-esteem and self reliance in boys. It is an incredibly powerful statement. It also shows the power that Scouting has to compensate for the absence of male role models and how Scouting can have a powerful presence especially in challenging circumstances.

As a Scout and Scouter over the last 56 years I have spent a fair amount of my life tramping around Boy Scout Camps across the United States. Justin and Jake have done an incredible job of communicating a powerful real-life image of the Boy Scout Camp experience. They make it come to life as it really is. They capture the fun, the camaraderie, the challenge and the achievement that are all essential elements of Scouting and the outdoors. This film demonstrates how the three elements of the Boy Scout program, skills, values and leadership, are effectively employed in the process of turning boys into productive and responsible Citizens.

This is must see film particularly in these challenging times. It communicates the power and the hope we need to get America back on track. As I write this Scouting has recently honored the two millionth Eagle Scout, there are 4.6 active Boy Scouts in America and 22.8 million worldwide. More than a million and a half of those Eagles are still alive today. Scouting has made a huge contribution to America and the world and is committed to doing so today and into the future.

Yours in Scouting and Service

Jim Bednarski
Assistant Scoutmaster Troop 99, Lancaster, PA
Author; Scouting for Boys, Centennial Edition

An update from the filmmakers…

January 29, 2010

If you subscribe to our e-mail list you may have already received this letter. If not you can subscribe here if you are interested. Meanwhile read on…!

On February 8th the Boy Scouts of America turns 100.  By pretty much any measure Scouting has been a big deal–112 million Americans have been members.  Alumni are as diverse as America itself– Steven Spielberg, Mike Bloomberg, Percy Sutton, David Lynch, Bob Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, Marion Barry, Michael Moore, and Gerald Ford are (were) all Eagle Scouts.  For me it was a place to learn how to light a fire, shoot a rifle, build a tower, sail a boat, capsize a canoe, cook up dinner and tie a tourniquet.  It also reinforced a set of ethics that I think are important but don’t get me started on that…

So what are we doing to celebrate?  Tico Perez, the National Scout Commissioner, will ring the bell to open the Stock Market but our party is further uptown.  We will have a special screening of the film at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem on February 8th.  The irrepressible Hellura Lyle, host of the successful Docwatchers series, has sponsored this screening.  The event is free (but a donation for Docwatchers is recommended) and it is first come first served.  Doors open at 7PM and the address is 343 Lenox between 127th and 128th.  We were pleased to learn that Congressman Charlie Rangel–Harlemite, Purple Heart recipient and Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee will join us and say a few words about the Boy Scouts, Harlem and the film.  If you are in New York and can make it to this special screening we’d love to see you.

Next, an item for you guys on our list more interested in filmmaking than the Scouts…

What is the worst part of the job for most filmmakers?  Raising money.  One of the benefits that Jake and I had when we were making “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” is that, by design, we kept the production costs very low and did most of the work ourselves.  That meant that we didn’t have to raise any money to compete this film.  This brand of ultra-low-budget-do-it-yourself-yet-high-production-quality filmmaking is realtively new.  It has been made possible by dramatic, disruptive changes to filmmaking that have come down the line in the last decade.  Inexpensive, high-quality video cameras–like the Sony Z1U which was used to make our film–have allowed guys like us to pretty much shoot as much HD footage as we’d like.  Final Cut Pro–Apple’s editing software–has democratized professional editing.  Obviously, just because these tools are accessible doesn’t mean they are easy to use and there are loads of poorly shot, poorly edited independent films out there.  But what these changes do mean is that there has never been a time when you could make a film with so little money.  Sundance, this year, instituted a category for no-budget/low-budget films….I have no doubt more and more films will be made this way.  It will allow filmmakers more time to focus on their art because they will spend less time raising money.

Having said that, I am sad to report that I spent the last several months raising money.  Not for us but rather for Maryland Public Television which is the PBS affiliate that decided to pick up the film for broadcast.  Steven Schupak, our contact at MPT and a great guy, told me and Jake how the Public Television world works: “think of how commercial television works and simply turn everything around.”  That means instead of the TV station paying us to run our film, we need to pay the TV station to run our film.  Why is that?  Well, Public Television is a Byzantine Empire–with 354 local member stations each of which manage what is seen on their channel.  Some affiliates are bigger than others–WGBH in Boston, WNET in New York, WETA in DC are the “big three” and produce a lot of the shows you’ve heard of–Sesame Street, Newshour, Nova.  Other affiliates,  are tiny.  Maryland Public Television (MPT) is one of the bigger affiliates–in part because Maryland is such an irregular shape so its broadcast reaches a large geographic area packed with people.  MPT put the ball in our court to raise money to fund their efforts to present “759” to public television stations.  In practice, what happens is MPT staff charged with “station relations” promotes our shows to the 353 PBS affiliates to get them to pick them up.  This takes time, phone calls and, sometimes, schwag.  The more money we raise for MPT the better job they can do with “station relations” — to make our film stand out in a crowded field–and reach a wider audience.  Sponsors who contribute money are recognized before and after the broadcast (brought to you in part by…etc.).

We tried hard, but raising money for the PBS broadcast didn’t go very well.  We contacted over 250 individuals, corporations and foundations and managed to find only a single, generous donor who will remain anonymous here.  We got through to some of the richest Americans, some of the largest corporations and some of the most famous Eagle Scouts and we were turned down by all of them.  It is too bad…but the good news is that with the modest amount of money we were able to raise MPT has committed to air the film anyway.  They promised to do the best job they can with “station relations” so we are excited.  We are happy to report that the film will be syndicated for broadcast on Public Television Stations in fall of 2010 and we hope your local affiliate decides to pick it up.  If you want to make a tax-deductible donation to this effort (and see your name in the credits on PBS) just drop us a line at

But enough about money–what’s going on with the Scouts from 759?

First, Keith Dozier has had his nose to the grindstone at the KIPP School in Harlem.  He is getting older but he looks as comfortable as ever in front of the camera on this Giro/NBC News report.

Next, Emmanuel Nortey received his first college acceptance letter and expects to receive a few others.  He will be heading off to college next fall.  Nice work!

Devon Howard earned his Eagle Scout.  In a moving ceremony in the basement of Church of the Master, Devon’s Eagle was pinned on his uniform and his parents stood by his side.  He is on scholarship at a boarding school in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and holding his own–despite being surrounded by Red Sox fans.

And finally, Colin “KC” Byers, who many of you know and love, was selected to join a small delegation of Scouts who will give the “Report to the Nation” in Washington in February.  Yep, KC is going to meet Barack Obama.  He will be the fist white Scout from Harlem to meet the first black President in the White House.  How about that?  We will be sure to circulate a photo when we get one…

In other news, we put together a “behind the scenes” video that shows how “Big Scout Grace” the film’s theme, was recorded.  You can see Patrick and Jennifer Byers and Nik Munson playing a wonderful piece of music together here.  You will also catch a glimpse of Roy Coopervasser our bald, talented sound engineer with his own brand of funky-uptown-hip.

Finally, Jake and I would like to thank all of you who have purchased a DVD or helped to spread the word about this film.  If you haven’t yet bought a DVD, so far the film doesn’t seem to be available free on BitTorrent so you might as well just get yourself a copy here.  Also, feel free to forward this message to a friend who might enjoy it or join our group on Facebook if you haven’t already.  We can’t do it without you guys and we appreciate your support.

Thanks & Be Prepared!

Justin Szlasa
917 355 9895