Teaching a screenwriting class at Sylmar Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, Ben Lear met three teenagers facing de facto life sentences for first-degree murder and attempted murder, and before long they became subjects for this documentary, appearing on camera to hammer out ideas for a short that Lear ultimately filmed with actors and integrated into the narrative. The project’s genesis may seem opportunistic, yet it allows Lear to investigate the circumstances surrounding the teenagers’ crimes, and their personal stories, full of violence and abuse, raise vexing questions about how the justice system should treat teenage killers. Lear also follows the progressive effort to reform juvenile sentencing in California, which included passage of a 2013 law granting de facto lifers a parole hearing after 15 years served; the three screenwriters may walk free again, but not as kids.
They Call Us Monsters
NR • 1 hour 22 min • 2017