Stunning New Documentary “The House I Live In”.

thehouseilivein-15469-530x330The doc­u­men­tary The House I Live In arrives with a lofty rep­u­ta­tion, and for once it more than lives up to it. It’s stunning.

It’s the lat­est work from Eugene Jarec­ki, who’d pre­vi­ous­ly made the bril­liant The Tri­als Of Hen­ry Kissinger in 2002. And who is also the broth­er of Andrew, who made the extra­or­di­nary Cap­tur­ing The Fried­mans in 2003.

The House I Live In gives an overview of Amer­i­ca’s so called “War On Drugs”, which began offi­cial­ly with Richard Nixon in the ear­ly 70s. In real­i­ty though, its roots are buried deep in race. 

It began with the suc­ces­sive moves to out­law each of the dif­fer­ent drugs favoured by the var­i­ous groups of eth­nic immi­grants. That start­ed with the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of opi­um at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, in response to the influx of Chi­nese work­ers to the West coast.

friedmans-2Cannabis, cocaine and hero­ine fol­lowed as blacks and His­pan­ics were sim­i­lar­ly tar­get­ed. This racism by default reached its nadir in the 80s when the manda­to­ry sen­tence for crack cocaine was made 100 (one hun­dred!) times harsh­er than for ordi­nary coke, based on the kinds of peo­ple who were more like­ly to be caught using them.

This by the way has only very recent­ly been reduced to a dif­fer­ence of a mere 14 times, despite the fact that every­one knows they are essen­tial­ly the same thing.

The film bril­liant­ly mar­shals an extra­or­di­nary amount of research and molds it into a coher­ent nar­ra­tive. But nev­er one that’s in any way sim­plis­tic, or un-nec­es­sar­i­ly bom­bas­tic. Despite the fact that it’s a pas­sion­ate­ly, and under­stand­ably angry film about what the war on drugs has done to the most­ly black and always impov­er­ished mem­bers of soci­ety there. 

It per­fect­ly com­bines per­son­al tes­ta­ment, such as the mov­ing sto­ry of the Jarec­ki fam­i­ly house­keep­er and how her fam­i­ly was effect­ed, with the care­ful­ly con­sid­ered views of sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als in the area. The strongest of whom is The Wire’s David Simon, who worked for 12 years as a crime jour­nal­ist on the Bal­ti­more Sun, before tak­ing all of that exten­sive and depress­ing expe­ri­ence and turn­ing it into riv­et­ing drama.

NNVG2305It’s very hard to watch this film and not feel incred­i­bly depressed about mod­ern day Amer­i­ca. All you can say is that, at the very least, this is an Amer­i­can film, and as such is a mag­nif­i­cent exam­ple of the free­dom of speech and expres­sion that that coun­try fos­ters and encourages. 

And the fact that there are peo­ple like Jarec­ki mak­ing films like this. And that peo­ple like Dan­ny Glover, Brad Pitt and musi­cian John Leg­end are all keen to help him do so by act­ing as Exec­u­tive Pro­duc­ers on it. And that the peo­ple inter­viewed in it are all of them hero­ical­ly try­ing to do some­thing to help change the sta­tus quo, offers some cause for hope.

It’s part of BBC4’s superb Sto­ryville series, so keep your eye out for it there. Either way, if at all you can, see it. You can see the trail­er here.

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