Feel-Good 'Rock Camp, The Movie' shows dreams coming true, for those who can afford the price tag

A group of rockers teachers campers at Rock Camp
Dave Mustaine, Megadeth and Metallica lead guitarist, teaching campers
at Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, April 21, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Rock Camp, The Movie
invites viewers to spy on one four-day session at a Vegas-located Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp. The brainchild of music producer David Fishof, these intensive camps have been run since 1997 and allow all levels of musicians the opportunity to come together, form a rock band with others of a similar skill level, and master and perform two setlists. Campers are mentored by a variety of celebrity counselors, such as Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey, and Gene Simmons. Co-directed and written by Douglas Blush and Renee Barron, with Kimberly Furst as an additional writer, this upbeat and fast-paced documentary offers a fun peek into an aspiring rock musician's dream come true, provided you enter prepared to ignore the privilege and financial pocketbook needed to enjoy such a dream.

Viewers in the know may recall that back in 2010-2011, VH1 aired two seasons of a miniseries, Rock 'n'Roll Fantasy Camp, a reality-style TV show, which followed a dozen or so campers during their time at camp. That series capitalized on public interest in shows like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, where average people grow in their skill set. Blush & Barron's film attempts to show the positive impact Rock Camp has on everyone involved, from the campers to the celebrity counselors to the camp founders. Blush and Barron's vast experience as film editors certainly suits this project well, and they pack much content into the brief 87-minute runtime. Rapid cuts and the upbeat sound bites from everyone interviewed give the film the high-energy feel of a music video. 

In addition to his editing experience, Blush directed two full-length documentaries, Of Two Minds (2012) and Beyond Laughter and Tears (2016), both which are intimate portraits of individuals with mental disorders that manage to avoid the trap of depicting their subjects as victims or inspiration porn. He is adept at capturing people's stories in a way that highlights their challenges, yet also shows the things that bring them joy. Blush brings this skill set to the table as he introduces us to four different campers who choose to attend Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, painting his subjects with empathy. This talent almost hides the fact that Rock Camp, The Movie is essentially one long infomercial for the camp. Almost, but not quite.

Roger Daltrey singing with campers at the 10th Anniversary of Rock 'n'Roll Fantasy Camp
in Las Vegas, November 10, 2007.

The documentary begins by giving a historical context for the camp, both with pop culture references and through the career of its founder, David Fishof, a sports agent who ultimately found his sweet spot in music production, influencing superstars like The Monkees and Ringo Starr to take important next steps in their careers. Viewers are able to see how Fishof's childhood and career lead to him coming up with and executing a big idea Rock Camp, which has lasted over 20 years now. The bulk of the film follows four of the campers: Tammy Fisher, an accountant who has attended the camp as a drummer and now wants to be a lead vocalist (so she can perform with Paul Stanley), Blake Meinhardt, a teen male with autism who doesn't say much but comes to life when he has a guitar in hand, Scott "Pistol" Crockett, a percussionist who once played with the likes of Lenny Kravitz but now plays more often at his home church than on the stage, and Scott Keller, a metalhead who took a break from shredding guitar once his second child was born with brain damage.

While we get to know the campers and see them begin to coalesce with their band members, we spend time hearing from the celebrity stars who serve as counselors and mentors, who share why they keep coming back to camp. Hearing the counselors' viewpoints and observing their lessons adds precious humor to the film. One of the more charming stars is bassist Tony Franklin, who amuses campers with his Gollum impersonation and shares that a good bassist needs to "be more boring" to add value. We also hear their strategies for encouragement and bringing out the best in the campers, which adds a heartwarming touch.

Jeff Beck, legendary guitarist, on stage with Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp attendees
on April 21, 2013 in Las Vegas.

The camp, and movies, concludes with the final performance of each of our main quartet of campers and then showing us what each of them has done since the camp, leaving on a note of inspiration. But what do Blush and Barron hope to inspire viewers to do? The camp's website includes information on the film. The section "What the Film is About" includes this statement: 

"This film is about finding yourself and your inner strength and confidence, inspiring you to connect with your passions and live each day to the fullest at any age or stage in your life."

However, if that's the film's purpose, that message is not relayed in the content of Rock Camp, The Movie. Instead, the theme of the film seems to be that Rock Camp is awesome. If viewers are inspired to do anything, it might be to scrape together $5,000 for the pleasure of rocking out with Roger Daltry. But what about aspiring musicians who can't possibly afford such a fee? No interviewees talk about other avenues of making that dream come true. And for those really wanting to make music a career, $5,000 can go a long way in paying for lessons or the cost and maintenance of owning a musical instrument, rather than funding four days at a celebrity rock camp. In addition, with all the interest today in racial diversity and inclusivity, culturally competent viewers will notice the people in this film (with the exception of Scott Crockett) are overwhelmingly white. It would be interesting, and wise, for the Rock Camp programming committee to consider branching out to other forms of popular music and offering scholarship opportunities in the future. These steps would go a long way in showing they want to help anyone live their dreams. But as long as you are prepared to put cynicism aside, Rock Camp, The Movie offers a feel-good and sweet opportunity to see rock stars giving back to their fans and campers able to make a bucket list dream come true.

Release Info: On demand or through virtual cinema starting February 16, 2021 

Final Score: 3 out of 5