Flicks - Family Ties

In the old days, Girl Scouts scarfed s'mores, made hideous potholders and worked on their public-service merit badges.

In the new Girl Scouts, they take monthly field trips to visit their mothers in prison. Troop 1500 is a heart-wrenching, tear-jerker documentary featuring an innovative push by the Girl Scouts Organization to remain relevant in a more complicated world.

At Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, Texas, the mothers of these ultimate troopers are locked up for a myriad of crimes: heroin possession, assault, and in one instance, unauthorized euthanasia of a patient by a nurse. Themselves the products of broken families and bad choices, the inmates often seem as vulnerable as their daughters, showing a girlish desire to attend beauty school or the ability to screw up their parole by blowing money on junk food.

Directors Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein follow a troop of Texas schoolgirls who are part of the push to build mother-daughter bonds and break the pattern of self-destruction. In this admirable form of girl power, the Girl Scouts allow the girls to visualize another reality for themselves. Putting power literally into their own hands, the girls interview their mothers about what led them to the Big House.

Almost as disturbing as the sense of betrayal expressed by the girls are the scenes repeated at the prison gates each month. At the end of the visits, the little girls are pulled away from their mothers, shrieking and crying in a fresh reminder of their painful separation.

Troop 1500 emphasizes the need to rebuild families and create communication between generations. Though there are too many clips of campy vintage Girl Scout propaganda (including one clip of Natalie Wood as a youngster), the film makes a powerful point: Even a wayward mama is preferable to no mama at all.

Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Image ?Troop 1500 plays Tues., June 14, 6:30 p.m., at the Atlanta-Fulton Central Library, 1 Margaret Mitchell Square. 404-730-1700. www.atlantafilmfestival.com.