“When this film premiered at Sundance this past January, talk of the drug war was an issue below the radar in most political and media circles. Yet in just the past year, the zeitgeist has shifted, with an ever-growing chorus across the political spectrum demanding a wholesale rethinking of the war on drugs, which wrongly treats a matter of public health as a criminal justice matter. We’ve worked hard to make the film available as an awareness-raising tool for use by those on the ground in states across the country to achieve the drug policy and criminal justice victories in last month’s election. I am proud to see the film playing a role in this shift toward saner and more sensible drug policies. With FilmBuff releasing The House I Live In across an array of digital platforms, the message will be able to reach a much wider audience.”
The following interview was first published March 8, 2012.
Eugene Jarecki's incisive and incendiary "The House I Live In," which won the U.S. documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and might win next year's doc Oscar, will blow your mind. That's because it tackles a subject that you think you know a little about--America's war on drugs--and in excruciating detail shows you how the whole system is broken and dysfunctional.
I interviewed Jarecki via Skype; our podcast is below. The man is on a mission to use this movie as a tool to raise awareness of the systematic problems with our country's approach to chasing, convicting, sentencing and imprisoning drug users and sellers. America is the world's biggest jailer. How does our prison system perpetuate itself?
The movie shows you how. It's a complex problem and the solutions will also be hard to come by. Clearly, our drug laws have to change, and the American people need to stop encouraging politicians to pander to law and order sentiments. To Jarecki, it's more about "being smart on crime" than "being tough on crime."
Thus Jarecki and Cinetic Media's Sloss pursued an innovative distribution approach which did not involve going through an established studio distributor like Sony Pictures Classics, which released his last picture, "Why We Fight." Richard Abramowitz's Abramorama ("Exit Through the Gift Shop") will release the film theatrically, while Snagfilms' digital distribution will cover key VOD platforms and an ad-supported release on snagfilms.com.
Jarecki wants to reach out with the October 5 release of "The House I Live In.' He hasn't forgotten Ralph Nader's suggestion that he didn't deploy that film as a consciousness-raising weapon as well as he might have. While Jarecki says that SPC "did a very good job, the world has changed."
"I want to reach as many Americans as I can," adds Jarecki, who is ready to wage a grassroots political marketing campaign across the country, using social media and multiple digital platforms, to jumpstart a conversation about how to wreak serious change, so that when people leave the theater they are moved to do something, "to move that needle legislatively."
To that end, he has already raised more than $700,000 toward a direct outreach campaign specifically geared to finding organization partners in each locality, from Calfornia, where groups are working to repeal the three strikes law, to New York City, where ex-police chief Bratton--"America's sheriff"-- has sway. Jarecki already has 70 to 80 partners lined up to reform a criminal justice system, he says, that is "morally and economically bankrupt." He believes that with or without his movie, the zeitgeist is poised for change, that the American public is "overwhelmingly ready." Listen here.
Even Barack Obama's reelection campaign chief, David Axelrod, is requesting a screening of the movie. Well that's a start.