Thursday, 26 January 2012
SUNDANCE 2012: The House I Live In
By Alan Bacchus
It's been over 40 years since the term 'War on Drugs' was coined by Richard Nixon, and the fight has still not been won. Very little has changed, and according to Eugene Jarecki and the participants in his film it's even worse now than it was then. Considering Jarecki's success with political films, such as Why We Fight and Reagan, one would think he would be capable of handling such a broad topic. Unfortunately, like the authorities who can't seem to make any headway in their struggle, such is the result of this film. With the greatest of intentions, Jarecki's film is just too broad and unfocused to make its point dramatically.
To tackle the War on Drugs, Jarecki starts off with one of the best personalities to share his experiences, David Simon, the former investigative journalist and creator of The Wire, the last word on crime on television. He provides the most articulate insights, specifically related to the police’s culpability and their internal incentive policies toward arrest stats.
Jarecki also finds some very poignant reflections from his former nanny, a black woman whose family succumbed to the damaging effects of drugs after Jarecki’s family moved away from the city. Jarecki also puts his camera in cop cars that patrol America's streets, the courtrooms that lay down the sentences and the jails that keep drug dealers locked up for life.
Including the policing incentives and the corporate prison industry, Jarecki's thesis hits a number of culprits, but none more damning than the judicial system, including the minimum sentences and the shameful bias against crack cocaine used by the urban poor vs. powdered cocaine used primarily by the middle- and upper-classes. As such, Jarecki claims the drug war is a class and race war in disguise, consciously targeting the poorest Americans.
In the final act Jarecki overextends himself by making specific comparisons to the Holocaust and its five stages of genocide – identification, ostracism, confiscation, concentration and annihilation. While the topic and themes are of grave importance, Jarecki's ambitiousness is his undoing, as he tries to cover all the bases without the sufficient connections to make a precise, powerful and effective statement.