The Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., will screen "Kids for Cash" at 7 p.m. May 29 and 30. The documentary chronicles a judiciary scandal that happened merely two counties away, but shocked the entire country.
In 2009, two Luzerne County judges were accused of accepting kickbacks (in the form of money) for keeping two for-profit juvenile detention centers full of inmates. The men, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, sentenced youths to extended stays for offenses like creating a fake MySpace page to mock a principal, trespassing on a vacant lot and shoplifting DVDs. Over the course of only a few years, more than 3,000 students - many of whom were in their early teens - were incarcerated for up to several years.
The scandal was featured in 2009's "Capitalism: A Love Story," a film directed by unapologetic noisemaker Michael Moore. The story also has been depicted, with varying forms of creative liberty taken, in popular U.S. crime shows like "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." It wasn't until this February, however, that the story would be given the treatment of a full-length documentary.
Carla Fisher, the CAC's director of marketing and creative design, explained that the decision to show "Kids for Cash," and films like it, is more regressive than progressive - and that that is a good thing.
"Many people from the community remember when the Community Arts Center used to be the Capitol Theatre, one of the grandest movie houses of its day back in 1928. Movies were the staple of the theater as well as a few live shows a season. Over the past years, the Community Arts Center has been packed with live shows, touring and local productions with only a few days in between to allow for films. The big blockbuster movies want weeks to play at a movie house, so we had to redirect our movie strategy while not compromising on quality. This lead me to focus on documentaries, movies based on true events and avant-garde films," Fisher said.
While it isn't likely that anyone would complain about the live performances on the Community Arts Center's stage each year, it is nice to have even sporadic exposure to the types of films that don't typically make it to the bigger movie theaters. "Kids for Cash," however, could play at a big-name movie complex; producer/director Robert May was behind the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War: Eleven Stories from the Life of Robert S. McNamara," and Eddie Marritz, one of the film's two cinematographers, has been nominated for an Emmy. The film has received strong reviews from major publications across the country since its release in February.
"What a crazy story," Fisher said, adding, "I knew we had to show it in our area. My hope is that the film evokes some discussion."
Perhaps one of the most interesting incentives to see the film is the chance to hear the story straight from the mastermind himself, former President Judge Mark Ciavarella. According to the official "Kids for Cash" website, "In a major dramatic coup, the film features extensive, exclusive access to the judges behind the scheme. Now serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison, the former juvenile court judge at the heart of the scandal shares his ulterior motives, revealing that his attorneys never knew about his interviews for this film."
It is to the filmmakers' credit that they didn't have to use the phrase that is all-too-common in such documentaries: "refused to comment." Though pure objectivism is near impossible, viewers of "Kids for Cash" are at least allowed more than one side of the story. Victims, their families and the "unsung heroes" of the scandal will share their stories alongside its perpetrators.
Tickets to see "Kids For Cash" can be bought at the door with cash or check. For more ticket information, visit www.caclive.com or call 570-326-2424.
For more information on "Kids for Cash," visit www.kidsforcashthemovie.com.