FULL FRAME: Filmmaker is subject of ‘Evolution of a Criminal’

Second chance after teenage bank robbery
Apr. 04, 2014 @ 06:28 PM

Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe turned the camera on his own life and the aftermath of robbing a bank as a teenager in “Evolution of a Criminal,” which screened Friday at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

“When we think of criminals, what do we imagine they look like?” Monroe asked during a question-and-answer session after the screening at the Durham Convention Center.

When Monroe was 16, he and two classmates robbed a bank in Houston. He served three years in prison. A decade after the crime, Monroe interviewed not only his family and accomplices about that time, but a customer at the bank during the robbery.

“Evolution of a Criminal” also shows Monroe approaching two other bank customers to apologize for what he did as a teenager. He explains in the film that by his teen years, he realized that his parents were barely making ends meet working three jobs between them. Robbing a bank seemed to be a solution to financial struggles. Through reenactment footage and narrative by Monroe and the two other men – Trei, the driver, and Pierre, the gunman – audiences see how the robbery unfolded during a school day.

Monroe also interviews the assistant district attorney who prosecuted his case, a teacher and the high school security guard who heard the hallway rumors of the crime. It paints a compelling, comprehensive picture of what happened a decade ago. Monroe turns the camera on himself occasionally, too, and lets out tears as he talks about his family, what he did and the time he served from 1998 to 2001.

One bank customer, Ned, a pastor, tells Monroe that during the robbery he’d never been so scared in his life.

After the screening, audience questions ranged from what it was like in prison to how he got Pierre, the gunman, to agree to being interviewed for the film.

It was during those three years in prison that Monroe decided he wanted to be a filmmaker. Other teenagers and young men serving time in the maximum security Texas prison planned their futures, too, even if serving long sentences, he said.

Monroe made “Evolution of a Criminal” while at film student at New York University. His professors did not know about his past before seeing a film trailer, and they too are interviewed on screen. They were surprised about Monroe’s past.

As for Pierre, before filming, Monroe hadn’t seen him since the robbery 10 years earlier.

“Life is tricky,” Monroe said, and after seeing Pierre again, his anger and resentment toward him went away.

At the screening, Monroe was asked if his turning his life around positively after prison was unusual. He said no.

“I had the opportunity to get out,” he said, and finish the college education he began in prison, then went on to NYU.

“A lot of people just don’t get a second opportunity to succeed. A lot want to and it doesn’t happen,” Monroe said.

The last question Monroe took before heading to the airport to catch a plane was a “big question,” he said, about what changes he would make to the criminal justice system.

Monroe said the system is completely lopsided, with the inmate population being nearly all African American.

“We have to have a whole long discussion,” he said. “It’s very difficult not to be judged on your race in the criminal justice system. We need to have a discussion on that first.” Full Frame continues through Sunday in downtown Durham. For information, visit www.fullframefest.org.