Eugene Jarecki’s superb documentary, “The House I Live In,” conjures a definitive reaction from those sensitive to cultural imbalance. It nurtures one’s natural instinct to expose and erase societal injustice. In other words–it speaks candidly to whatever is good in you.
The film played as part of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival last week. A Q and A followed the screening and it became crystal clear that Jarecki crafted a provocative documentary from observing the audience’s unusual impatience to offer opinions and/or ask questions (Q and A’s generally consist of awkward inquiries and reluctant half-raised hands).
“The House I Live In” is a powerful examination of America’s costly (more than a trillion dollars) and futile “War on Drugs” (40 years, 45 million arrests, making America the world’s largest jailer). Jarecki says early in the film that his catalyst/muse for this project was a not-so elderly (quite spry in the film) African American woman that practically raised him while his parents were working. She’s a charming, soulful lady with the weight of the world haunting her aura.
Nannie Jeter’s warm simplicity provides the perfect stronghold/center for the movie. Around this center–spinning off from it–the documentarian weaves a masterful dissection of frustrated political agendas, shamed and compromised bloodlines, interviews with jailers and the jailed, footage of wealthy men making inhumane decisions, and credible articulate speakers offering opinions as to the ‘why’s’ and the ‘how’s.’
We quickly learn this laughable enterprise (The War on Drugs–even the phrase has a ring of absurdity) costs lives, destroys countless families, and racially cleanses American society of its carefully chosen enemies. Drugs are cheaper, more pure, and more available today than ever before. The film credits Richard Nixon with the contemporary beginnings of the charade (Mr. Nixon supposedly first coined the phrase in the media, and then the Reagans drove it home with a vengeance in the 1980s). The film then strategically shows us that nothing has changed since the streets are no safer and the drugs are still prevalent. The money is still spent with reckless abandon.
The two most important questions addressed in the film are- 1. Why have we somehow molded a society that NEEDS drugs? and 2. What is this peculiar pattern that keeps emerging throughout history where we identify an enemy, then discredit the enemy, take away the enemy’s rights, and then slowly eradicate the enemy’s presence from the planet (minorities, lower class citizens, ethnic groups that threaten rich whites). The film rightly compares the War on Drugs to a holocaust. It most certainly is. The numbers and the execution are identical to the logistics of a holocaust.
The film won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance for American documentary–and deservedly so. It is an extremely effective work that should be exposed to as many eyes/brains as humanly possible. Movies don’t often incite groundbreaking provocations (Oliver Stone’s “JFK” comes to mind–the film was shown to Congress in 1991 leading to the Assassinations Disclosure Act and Erroll Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line” in 1988 led to a overturned capital murder verdict and a man’s release from prison). Jarecki’s “The House I Live In” has this kind of voltage.
It asks all the right questions about all the right problems. The movie slowly gets under your skin and compels you to acknowledge the cold hard fact that the higher powers of this nation are committing more unspeakable crimes than the drug pushers they incarcerate to pad their own wallets, assure their societal positions, demonstrate their influence, justify inflated budgets and ameliorate their infantile Anglo fears.
Tom Beaver is an American writer, film director and actor. His writings include screenplays, plays, essays, reviews and the obligatory unfinished novel. His films include “The Nervous System” (2009), “American Nocturnal” (2010), and “The Jukebox Man’s Son” (2010). He currently resides in Los Angeles. Tom Beaver’s IMDB PAGE.