Zeitgeist to show Ben Lear’s documentary on juvenile offenders

From Feb. 3 to Feb. 8, Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center will be showing director and producer Ben Lear’s documentary “They Call Us Monsters.” The film examines the legislation that allows juvenile offenders to be charged as adults, centered on three teenagers potentially confronting life sentences.

The documentary is set at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, where Gabriel Cowan leads a class with teenaged inmates Juan Gamez, Jared Nava and Antonio Hernandez. Their end goal is to write a screenplay based on the young men’s experiences.

Lear’s comparisons of the different perspectives of the offenders, the victims and the prison system point to the complexity of what the film is tugging at — the fact that there isn’t one answer. There isn’t one way to fully comprehend justice in a difficult legal system.

“They Call Us Monsters” attempts to insert America’s prison system into public view while integrating the struggles of a misunderstood population. Simultaneously, the film recognizes the destructive consequences of violence, illustrating a complicated relationship between two sides of a difficult argument about prison reform.

Whether Lear is successful is not up to whether he convinces audiences to join one side or the other, but rather whether he leaves audiences contemplating an important issue in the justice system.

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