South By Southwest 2014 Interview Ė EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL director Darius Clark Monroe
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/06/14 11:20:02
ďI foolishly robbed a bank at 16 years old and decided to make an autobiographical film exploring the reasons why. Come check out the movie. We premiere this Saturday, March 8th, at 7pm. I promise you a great experience and a cool Q&A.Ē Director Darius Clark Monroe on ďEvolution of a CriminalĒ which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
Yes, this is my first SXSW experience and Iíll be in attendance at all four screenings of EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL. Iíve been to Austin once, back in 2007. Itís a beautiful city and I look forward to returning.
Your favorite barbecue/food in the city?
Iím not a local but I hear that The Salt Lick is the closest one can ever come to experiencing heaven on Earth.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?
For most of my life, I thought Iíd become an architect. I was obsessed with drawing houses, schools, and floor plans. Imagine a 10 year old chubby kid seated at a table, drawing blue prints of fictitious mansions. That was me. And I loved it. Fast forward 8 years later and I found myself in prison, with time to reflect, read, and write. I was a young kid with a full imagination and nowhere to go. Iíd always enjoyed writing, but it wasnít until my incarceration that I realized writing was something I could do for the rest of my life. After obsessing about wanting to write for the screen, I stumbled across a news article, in the prison library, ranking the top film schools in the country. After reading about New York University and Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, and Jim Jarmusch, I knew that NYU was where I wanted to be and it consumed me. The school was teaming with rebels and I guess, due to my current situation at the time that I felt like I had something to prove. To this day I have no idea why or how filmmaking forced itself into my life, but Iím grateful for it.
Regarding my past work, in addition to working on this documentary, over the last several years, Iíve written/directed numerous shorts which have screened all over the country, some across the globe.
How did this whole project come together from your perspective?
It was a miracle, to be honest. The project, seven years in the making, didnít fully come together until 2012. We shot most of the footage back in 2007 but I was still struggling with how to tell my own story. I was too close to the material and I didnít want to release a film that I didnít stand behind.
The idea to make this documentary came to me during my third year in the grad film program at NYU. I was actually at a bank, surprise surprise, making a deposit when I thought someone was going to come inside and rob us. I stood in line filled with anxiety because I thought this day would be the day of reckoning. I believe in karma and I just knew that I was going to one day experience being on the other side of a shot gun.
Fortunately, that possible robbery was a figment of my imagination but the feeling, the anxiety never went away. I thought about the customers in the bank the day I robbed it. I wondered about their experience and was ashamed that ten years had gone by without an apology.
I spoke with Daniel Patterson, my best friend, former classmate, and our cinematographer, and informed him of what I wanted to do. He gave the thumbs up and the journey began.
What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
Most creatives tend to be emotional. Iím no different. Iíd fooled myself into thinking that I had become emotionally detached from the events that occurred ten years prior, but that was far from the truth. The biggest challenge was having to relive everything. It felt like time had collapsed and I was back in 1997.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
This is a tough question. There are way too many favourite moments. One that comes to mind occurred last January on the final day of our re-enactment shoot. I was filled with excitement because our last day went smoother than expected and we wrapped a few hours early. A few crew members and I came back to my place in BedStuy to celebrate wrapping the shoot, and I remember sitting down on the couch and becoming instantly overwhelmed with emotion. We were one step closer to fully realizing this film. The re-enactment shoot was a monster because we had very little money. The fact that so many people worked for little or no pay, and that the experience surpassed my expectations; one can see why I was a teary eyed and snooty-nosed. It truly does take a village to get a film done. So many people believed in this story, believed in me, and Iíll never forget it. Iím forever grateful.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?
I donít drink coffee, but I have my vices. What keeps me going is time, or the lack thereof. Life is too short not to give everything 100%. I hate quitting. Although I walked away from this project for a couple of years, it never left me. I wasnít working on it day to day, but I thought about it all of the time and I knew I had to finish it. I was so focused on wanting it to be good and not wanting to fail that the stress became debilitating. I released that pressure and simply focused on getting it done. I told myself that finishing the film, after so many years would be enough for me. Whether the film was good or bad would not be a concern.
I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
I have a great relationship with Daniel Patterson, our director of photography, and the man who has shot 90% of my projects. He and I have worked together so long that it doesnít feel like work. We thoroughly enjoy collaborating. This being a doc, the film was almost shot on everything. The majority on the interviews and B-roll were shot on the Panasonic DVX 100A and 100B using a Red Rock Micro lens adapter and Nikon 35mm still camera lenses. Remember, this was back in 2007, pre- Canon 5D! We shot the re-enactment on the RED Scarlet. Additional interviews were shot on the 5D, HVX, and Black Magic cameras.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW?
I always enjoy engaging with the audience. I love Q&Aís and post Q&A discussions about the work, about life, and how the work is a commentary about whatís going on in my life and maybe the lives of many others. Having that shared dialogue is what excites me the most.
After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?
There are a few places but Iím not allowed to say just yet. Iíd love to screen at BAMcinemafest, Hot Docs, Sheffield, and DOC NYC.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
I havenít traveled enough, unfortunately, so Iím sure that Iím missing out on a few incredible theatres. But Iíve always been a fan of the Ziegfeld Theatre here in New York. Itís extraordinary in size and decor. Iíve been in New York for almost a decade and Iím still amazed that this giant theatre is located right in the middle of Midtown. Itís breathtaking and this is even before the movie begins!
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
Iíd politely ask them to leave and if they refused, Iíd ask them again, but not politely.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?
Do you really want to do this? Like REALLY want to do this. If youíre not passionate about filmmaking, not film watching, thereís no need to waste anymore time fooling yourself. The work is painfully hard but incredibly rewarding, but you have to want it like youíve never wanted anything else. You have to be okay with not seeing family and friends. You have to be okay with being broke. You have to be okay with rejection. Be okay with not knowing what your future will look like. You have to be a dreamer and be realistic at the same time.
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?
I wouldnít consider this to be the single, greatest movie, but the movie going experience was hands down one of the greatest moments. I attended the NY Premiere of ANTICHRIST at the New York Film Festival, and like clockwork, about halfway into the film, a man had a seizure and someone yelled ďIs there a doctor in the house!Ē The film stops, the lights come up, and this being Lincoln Center, there were more than enough doctors in the house. Iím not sure if the film induced the seizure or if it was a random event, but after the gentlemen was escorted from the theatre; the film resumed and I quickly realized that he had yet to truly see something that was seizure worthy. That film was insane to watch on the big screen. I was also seated two seats down from Famke Janssen and I remember her being really nice and equally weirded out. Iím surprised more seizures didnít occur that night.
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This is one of the many films screening at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 7-15. For more information on the filmís screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte