Education Blog

Evolution of a Criminal

By Karolina Manko, Education Assistant 12.22.14

What drives a happy, studious, and charismatic teenager to commit a felony? In Evolution of a Criminal, filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe turns the camera on himself, his closest friends, and his family as he revisits a painful past. In high school, Monroe and two classmates robbed a bank in their hometown in Texas. After being caught, Monroe was sentenced to five years in prison. However, the film isn’t really about the crime or the punishment. It’s a study of how the decisions we make are affected by our circumstances. Evolution of a Criminal is a powerful reminder that nothing happens in a vacuum.

Recently the JBFC hosted two special student-screenings of the film, which was part of our 2014 Global Watch series. The screenings, which were followed by a Q&A with the director, proved to be a great opportunity to discuss issues of race and class. Students from Ossining HS, New Rochelle HS, The Children's Village, and the Pleasantville Cottage School visited our theater and Media Arts Lab. Each group asked insightful questions about the state of the U.S. justice system, about Monroe’s progression from inmate to NYU film school graduate, and about the undeniable relationship between poverty and crime.

Eric Katz, a teacher at New Rochelle HS wrote "Mr. Monroe's life is a testament to the resiliency of the individual. His is an incredible story of growth and redemption. On a personal level, the film explores issues that are critical in our contemporary society-poverty, hopelessness, race, our criminal justice system, and equity. All American students and teachers should be engaged in conversations about these topics. We are privileged that we had the chance to do so yesterday at the Jacob Burns Film Center... By offering New Rochelle High School students the opportunity to see Evolution of a Criminal and to discuss the movie with its director, the JBFC provided an unparalleled educational experience."

The afternoon screening was preceded by a short film written and directed by young women from the Gateways Program at the Pleasantville Cottage School. Gateways is an intensive, specialized Residential Treatment Program for girls and young women ages 12-16. During a ten-week course at the Media Arts Lab, under the guidance of JBFC faculty member and documentary filmmaker, Yolanda Pividal, the girls explored visual storytelling as a means for self-expression, communication, and healing. They watched and discussed film clips from personal narratives and crafted their own memories into a compilation reflective of their collective experiences.

Film is a powerful storytelling medium, and our student screenings often prove that human connection is a profoundly important educational tool. Sometimes a 90 minute documentary like Evolution of a Criminal can create a space for conversations that may never happen in traditional classrooms. Often, people like Darius Clark Monroe prove to be unforgettable teachers.


Evolution of a Criminal will be available for viewing beginning January 12, 2015 on Independent Lens on PBS.

For more information on student screenings and our Classroom to Screening Room program, visit our website.