SXSWORLD November 2014


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 25 of 35

2 4 S X S W o r l d | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4 | S X S W. C O M hen Darius Clark Monroe committed a bank robbery at age 16, the act shocked everyone close to him, and the repercussions of his choice upended the lives of his family, friends, teachers and victims. An honors student from a close-knit, extended family and two-parent home, Monroe was well-liked by his fellow students and teachers. He was supposed to attend college, not go to prison. Now, roughly 18 years later, Monroe explores the still raw emo- tional terrain created by his fateful choice in Evolution of a Criminal, a documentary that packs a consid- erable wallop. Executive produced by Spike Lee, the film premiered to acclaim at SXSW 2014, where it was pur- chased for broadcast as part of PBS' Independent Lens series. Since then, it has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Grand Jury Prize and Filmmaker Award at the Full Frame Film Festival, the world's preeminent venue for nonfiction cinema. "SXSW got things started," explains Monroe. "Both the screening and Q& A were very emotional. My whole family was there and when we walked out of the theater and into the lobby, there was Lois [Vossen] from Independent Lens. She told me immediately that it would be great for them." Monroe, who has directed award-winning, short fiction films, is overwhelmed by the reaction to his first feature documentary. "It's been a phenomenal experience, but it's also been quite surreal," he says. "I know what it was like the day my mom found out about the bank robbery, and the day I had to go to prison. I remember what her face looked like. I was thinking then that this was the end for me and for my future. This whole journey has been something that I couldn't have made up." Part of the film's strength is in the fearless and honest way Monroe approaches his subjects, and in their equally candid responses to his prodding. Whether it is his heartbroken mother, or the compas- sionate pastor who had the misfortune of being in bank at the time of the robbery, the filmmaker's aim is to "push the conversation beyond statistics" and talk about how, in the face of a formidable human failing, we must find the capacity to forgive and be forgiven. Lest anyone think Evolution of a Criminal is a simple tale of forgive- ness and redemption, it is not. Seamlessly woven into the narrative is Monroe's take on racism, inequality and injustice as it applies to African-American families' tenuous relationship to the "American Dream," as well as black men's disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. His experience at the Full Frame Festival screening was impor- tant for both his and the film's continuing trajectory. Monroe admits he was sweating the whole time it played, completely convinced that "they would think I was a hack. "I had no idea we'd get a standing ovation" he says, still astounded. "The people who were there know documentary through and through. I thought they were going to discover that the film isn't good … that it makes no sense or whatever. The love and appreciation we received absolutely floored me. Not only did they get it; they wanted to continue the dialogue, and that was something amazing." That ongoing "dialogue" among viewers and with the director has continued, contrib- uting to the film's consistent buzz. Monroe has continued to be surprised by how deeply it res- onates with the diverse audiences who see it. "People have said all kinds of things to me," he explains. "Both things that are positive, and things that are borderline offensive, but I've had many con- versations with individuals across the country who have been in similar situations. It's not nec- essarily crime, but these people made choices that impacted their families' lives and their own lives. They'll tell me the film inspired them to forgive someone or move past something they'd been hanging on to for a long time." The success is particularly gratifying because Evolution of a Criminal was seven years in the making as Monroe battled to shape the footage into a cohesive whole. One of his earliest supporters was Spike Lee. While taking Lee's thesis level directing class at NYU, Monroe told the acclaimed director his story. Lee offered to execu- tive produce and was involved before a single frame was shot. "Spike would call me and harass me and threaten me to finish the film," Monroe laughs. "He finally saw a real rough cut at Thanksgiving of last year. He called me immediately and we started to meet and have feedback sessions. Some were screaming matches!" Monroe is looking forward to making the material easily available outside the festival circuit. The coming Independent Lens broadcast is a highlight for him. "It's going to be on a network that the public can access for free, without having to pay for HBO or iTunes, and it's going to stream online for 30 days after it broadcasts on PBS. I feel honored to have it on the program." "I'm hoping people get behind the film," Monroe concludes. "I believe it has value and worth and even though some of the conversa- tions it inspires may be difficult, we must have them." Evolution of a Criminal will air on Independent Lens on January 12. Check your local PBS station listings for details. Evolution of a Criminal Follows Director's Quest for Redemption by elisabeth Greenbaum K asson D a riu s Cla rk M o n ro e ( Ri g h t) w i t h E xe cu t i ve Pro d u ce r S p ike Le e a t t h e Evolution of a Criminal wo rld p re m ie re d urin g SX S W 20 14 W WAY TA O S H I N G / G E T T Y I M A G E S

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of SXSWORLD - SXSWORLD November 2014