Friday, September 13, 2013

On Netflix streaming, catch up with last year's most important documentary: Eugene Jarecki's THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (and its bonus material)

The injustice of our justice system's punishment of drug-related crimes is front and center in THE HOUSE I LIVE IN, the title of which, by the time the film ends, will have taken on several meanings. If the phrase "the war on drugs" sounds familiar to you, then you 're probably primed for this richly unfolding story of a nation that has gone too far. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, who earlier gave us the fine documentaries Why We Fight and The Trials of Henry Kissinger, has, I think, topped even his own work with this film, showing us that the victims of this "drug war," as it is called, are our own citizens, most of the 99 per cent, whether in prison for unconscionably long terms, the families of those prisoners, or the rest of us who are paying for their often needless incarceration.

Mr. Jarecki's film (the man is shown at right) is all over the place, so it does take some time for his film to build. Yet along the way are to be found so many fascinating facts and ideas (along with the characters who give them to us) that anyone who cares about the future of our country will not be bored. From the differences in sentencing of convictions for powder and crack cocaine alone, the movie is eye-opening. But this is just a start. Jarecki is surprisingly evenhanded regarding prominent figures such as Richard Nixon, who began the war on drugs, noting that Nixon insisted on treatment as well as punishment for drug offenders. By the time we meet Kevin (I believe that is he, below) -- a man who's been given a mandatory life-without-parole for possession of three ounces of methamphetamine -- we can no longer look away from the screen nor close our ears to what everyone here is telling us -- from cops and judges to prisoners and their family members.

By the time one person notes that this drug war "is a holocaust in slow motion," you'll find it difficult to disagree because Jarecki has come at the situation from so many angles and via so many different people and professions that the big picture has no trouble emerging. We also see that this is not simply a race war, though this certainly does figure in, but primarily a class war -- as is more and more of what is going on today in these United States. As another person makes clear, "There will never emerge a shred of leadership that will change the situation, so caught up in the next election and raising money for campaigns are all our politicians."

As good as this film is, however, in demonstrating that we have a problem and what that problem is, it's the bonus material -- just over one hour of time and also available via Netflix streaming -- that actually offers an abundance of hope via some noticeably effective means of combating drugs without declaring this "war" on them and their users/sellers. The bonus material includes more time spent with the New Mexico Marshal (above) whom we meet in the film itself; a look at drugs in St. Albans, Vermont; how Providence, Rhode Island, shut down the drug markets by bringing the entire community into the picture; a video made on Anthony Johnson explaining the life of this young man prior to his sentencing; the story of Fontay, the drug dealer, and his neighborhood; an interview with Senator Jim Webb of Virginia regarding our broken criminal justice system; and the girl named Shanequa, whom we've seen only bits and pieces of in the film itself.

Taken together, the film and its bonus materials add up to 2 hours and 51 minutes of the most important documentary footage you'll be seeing anytime soon. The House I Live In, refers, among other things, to America itself -- as the final song sung by Paul Robson makes clear.

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