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The House I Live In

Is the war on drugs really working? If so, why don’t we have less drugs trade, less drugs addicts and less related crimes? Also, what was the true motivation behind this “war” to start with, was it really stemming from a government’s concern about the welfare of its citizens? New documentary The House I Live In explores all these issues and much more.

As David Simon, creator of the popular TV-series The Wire says in the film: “The drug war is a holocaust in slow motion,” and after seeing this film you can not do anything else than nod your head in agreement

It all started when director Eugene Jarecki talked to his former nanny, a black woman who looked after him in the years following the civil rights movement. Though not blind and thus sensing that unequality was still thriving in the US as well as abroad, Jarecki was shocked to hear that she blamed the state of an entire society, the loss of her son and the ravaged lives of many of her other family members on drugs, and the continuing rise thereof in America.

This revelation, something that had not crossed his mind before, sparked off an anger in him but luckily also an urge to find out the truth, which is what the director is aiming to present to us in his new documentary The House I Live In.

While Regan said: “America’s enemy number one is drug abuse,” and his wife drove around through the ghettos of the bigger cities in a posh winnerbego shouting “Just say no!” the problem was only made worse rather than better.

Reagan’s new drugs policies meant that thougher sentences would be carried out, some so harsh (such as the mandatory sentencing laws against the use of crack cocaine) that not one single person in the film could justify their use, not even a federal judge who by law had no other option than to hand them out.

Jarecki leaves no stone unturned in his quest for the true state of what is called “the war on drugs” and talks to everyone who is anyone in the field of drugs, social sciences, politics and history. Among many others we hear from Mark Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project and one of the leading criminal justice experts in the US; Richard Lawrence Miller, who is an expert on the history of drug laws and as mentioned before, David Simon, the creator of HBO series The Wire.

And just like the director, the audience is left with an even greater feeling of unsettlement after every interview. What comes to light is not a heroic approach to law enforcement that sets out to eliminate drugs to better the nation and help its people. No, what comes out is an unfair class system in which the poor again draw the shorter straw.

As the film points out, drug abuse is a matter of public health but instead has been treated as an opportunity for law enforcement and an ever expanding prison system, surprise surprise, it all comes down to money. The industry related to these issues are thriving; lasers, tasers, beds, health care – you name it, they shame it. The amount of money that is made by incarcerating what is effectively the poor is incredible.

Nobody in the world jails their people at a rate that the Americans do and as one of the wardens at a state penitentiary says: “You build a bed, they fill the bed. You get rich, we’ll get rich and we’ll all be rich together.”

Overall there is just too much to say on this issue but Jarecki manages to nicely contain it and stream it so that it is a comprehensible overview which leaves you sitting in the cinema stunned with anger and surprise long after the film is over. It is a harsh but stark investigative but entertaining documentary film that I can recommend to everyone.

The House I Live in will be released in the UK on 23 November. For screening information please check out the film’s page here.

If you are attending IDFA then you can catch the film today (23-11) 18:30 at the Brakke Grond Rode Zaal. For more information and to book tickets visit the IDFA website.

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