What is life like in a Serbian young offenders institution?
Being young today often seems to hold more fear than hope. This atmosphere of despondency is particularly prevalent in the largest juvenile correctional facility in the Balkans, where Jovan Todorovic and his crew filmed the lives of the minors that have been forgotten and sidelined by Serbian society. Juvenile, which we're premiering on Dazed, documents life within a correctional facility for the young adults and children who've been sent there. For these young people, who range in age from 14-23, the outside world can recede into an unfamiliar place – particularly given that the longest court sentence that can be imposed is four years, a lifetime for any restless young person who dreams of freedom.
Juvenile communicates the monotony and hopelessness of a life lived removed from the outside world whilst showing how youth is a universal concept, with the hopes and fears of the minors within the facility being no different to those who live outside of it. But for all that the subject matter might appear at first bleak – particularly given the uncompromising visuals of the post-Soviet correctional facility itself – Juvenile is a hopeful film. Watching it, you believe that there might be a positive resolution and some sort of redemption for these teenagers, many of whom hold on to religion as a way of processing the reality of their life within the centre.
Though many of the young people portrayed in the film are likely to never fully escape a life of crime, Juvenile maintains a candid and honest approach. This is a film in which the young people are allowed to speak for themselves, given a voice without editorialising and judgement. We see them playing, telling Jesus-as-a-pothead jokes, smoking incessantly (almost all the young people seem to permanently have a cigarette in hand, which underscores the reality that much like those in adult correctional facilities, often there's not much else to do but chainsmoke and dream of the outside world). In order to achieve this closeness with the young people he depicted, Todorovic and his crew spent months living within the facility. By participating in their daily lives and not letting the stories of their past saturate their portrayal in the film, Juvenile connects with the teenagers on a more intimate level. The result is as raw as it is captivating, capturing moments of dejection as much as instances of a faith and hope that even a life within a facility can’t fully extinguish.