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JUVIES

By admin | March 27, 2000

It should come as no surprise that director Liz Garbus produced the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Farm: Angola, USA” as “Juvies,” her disturbing look at the lives of three different youths struggling with the Baltimore juvenile justice system, is a variation on that same theme. Garbus introduces us to Shawn, the oldest and most hardened of the three who gets busted on drug charges just short of his eighteenth birthday. For him, the system offers one last long-shot chance to straighten out his act before he’s considered an adult. There’s Anthony, a soft-spoken kid with a loving family who’s nevertheless been accused of setting his apartment on fire. Finally, and most affecting, we meet Danny, an overweight but charismatic boy who suffers from a veritable alphabet soup — ADD, OCD, etc. — of debilitating mental disorders. When he pulled a knife on his doting but overwhelmed mother in a fit of rage, she finally filed charges in a desperate attempt to get him some help. The film tracks these young men as they work through the system, giving us an intimate look at Maryland’s imperfect but well-intentioned Cheltenham Youth Facility, as well as the hopes, fears, accomplishments and failures of its three subjects. It’s a difficult and disturbing film to watch, primarily because it gets you hooked and emotionally involved with these three struggling souls. As the film starts, you’d like to just crawl through the screen and slap these kids straight…or simply write them off as losers. This, of course, becomes impossible as the film proceeds…and turns oppressive when you realize that there are thousands of other kids out there just like these three. By personalizing these three previously random ciphers in the system, “Juvies” provides a necessary, if uncomfortable reminder that juvenile delinquents are people too.

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