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by Indiewire Staff
January 6, 2012 9:30 AM
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Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #9: Eugene Jarecki, 'The House I Live In'

"The House I Live In" director Eugene Jarecki
Documentary filmmaker and Sundance staple Eugene Jarecki (his last film "Reagan" premiered at the festival in 2001 and his 2005 film "Why We Fight" won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize) is back this year with "The House I Live In" (U.S. Documentary competition), a comprehensive work that delves into the war on drugs.

What it's about: Filmed in more than 20 states, "The House I Live In" tells the stories of individuals at all levels of America's war on drugs.

Says director Jarecki: "I've been preparing to make this film for over 20 years. But its seeds were planted in my childhood. I first met Nannie Jeter, one of the film’s main characters, when I was just a few days old coming home from the hospital. From that day on, she became a second mother to me, and her children and grandchildren a second family. Growing up in the wake of the civil rights movement, I thought we were all living in a kind of post-racial America – a place of new equality and opportunity. But as we grew older, I saw our paths diverge – where I as a white American found opportunity and privilege, they as African-Americans met a new kind of struggle that reemerged for black people in the post-civil rights era.

"This struggle holds particular significance for me, since my own family came to America fleeing persecution in Europe. From an early age, I was taught that my life would only have meaning if I brought the knowledge of this experience to bear in the defense of those suffering in today’s world. Naturally, watching people I love encounter challenges in America made me want to understand what was hurting them. And the more I looked, the more clear it became that first drugs and then the war waged against them were the primary forces behind their pain.

"The film is extremely personal for me in that it tells the stories of people I care greatly about and explores forces in American life that are deeply saddening. It tells very intimate and tender stories of people whose lives have been impacted by the war on drugs, but it also puts these stories in an historical context, sharing with the viewer a wide canvas that was painted for me by the many experts who gave their time to appear in the film. This is a challenging combination, because it means the film seeks to work on both emotional and intellectual wavelengths at the same time.

"The art of this, which I also faced in 'Why We Fight,' was in balancing the emotional and intellectual aspects in way that would create the most moving, gripping, and far-reaching film I can. There is so much to say about the drug war that part of this challenge, too, was in simply reining in the vast amount of footage we shot, experiences we had, and reflections that were shared with us into a manageable length. I like movies that are short enough that when people leave the theater, the night is still young and there’s still time for people to talk long and deep about their thoughts and reactions

"Between escalating violence in Mexico and recent legislative upheavals regarding drug sentencing and even limited legalization, the role of illegal drugs in American society and the war against their users and distributors is at the forefront of the national conversation. It needs to stay there until real change begins in earnest. I believe this is a pivotal moment for such change and my hope is that people’s reaction to the film is both an emotional one – moved by the characters and their heartbreaking stories – and an intellectual one – aware that only with public opposition will the forces that drive this system be prevented from continuing to damage so many American lives."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

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4 Comments

  • Kathleen | January 31, 2012 10:20 PMReply

    I just returned from a Naranon meeting, upscale white suburbans, drugs have taken a toll of families , deaths, financial destruction. Watched Democracy Now and was blown away by Nanny Jeter and Jerecki, . How do I buy this DVD to show at the next Naranon meeting?
    The drug epidemic in America is not going away it is getting worse, this film MUST be shown to all the tough on crime proponents in this country, they don't have a clue , that it is their next door neighbor , because we must remain anonymous!

  • Kim Brittenham | January 16, 2012 9:08 AMReply

    Thank you for making this film. This is exactly what I want to be talking about with my neighbors in Vermont. My sister and I made a film about a program in Vermont's women's prison because once we became aware of the way in which as a community are mismanaging people, we were compelled to share the stories of women incarcerated that we met.

    Little House in the Big House: www.littlehousebighouse.com

    Thank you Sundance for sharing this film. Thank you Mr Jarecki for making it.

  • Malcolm Kyle | January 7, 2012 8:16 AMReply

    Must we wait for a complete economic collapse to regain our unalienable­ rights?
    Maybe it's high time we all stood up and told our government that we're pooped at being beaten and jailed in order that unconscionable Transnational Corporations, and their Media Enablers, can continue to abuse, addict and poison us for obscene profits.

    According to the CATO Institute, ending prohibition would save roughly $41 billion of expenditure while generating an estimated $46 billion in tax revenues. - http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/DrugProhibitionWP.pdf

    Thanks to Prohibition we now have far more people locked in cages than would normally be the case. Apart from the fact that these extra prisoners are not contributing economically to society, it also costs 50,000 dollars per annum to incarcerate them. Additionally their families often go on government assistance, and it's again the average tax payer who has to pick up the bill. Their kids may be taken into care or raised by foster parents, again with tax payer money. Now add to all this the court costs, jail costs, and the salaries of all those people that have to deal with the enforcement of prohibition, like police officers, judges and public defenders and you'll start to get a fair idea of why "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929 happened during the period of another of our great experiments - Alcohol Prohibition.

    * The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
    * 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000 population at year-end 2009.
    * 2,292,133 adults were incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2009, that's approx. 1% of US adults.
    * Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or parole.
    * In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation,parole, or incarcerated) in 2009 — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.

    Prohibition has helped fill our Prisons and Jails to capacity. Violent criminals, murderers, rapists and child molesters are released early to create space for so called 'drug offenders'. Half of court trial time and also a huge chunk of police officers time is pointlessly wasted. Enormous untaxed profits from illegal drugs fund multi-national criminal empires which bribe law enforcement authorities and spread corruption faster than a raging bush fire. Prohibition takes violent criminals and turns them into multi-billionaires whilst corrupting even entire countries, including our own. Our drug laws are also funding the Taliban and al-Qaeda whose illegal opium profits allow them to buy weapons and pay it's fighters more than $300 a month, compared with the $14 paid to an Afghan policemen.

    Maybe many of the early Prohibitionists did not really intend to kill hundreds of thousands worldwide, or put 1 in every 30 American adults under supervision of the correctional system. But similar to our "Great Experiment" of the 1920s, the prohibition of various other drugs has once again spawned rampant off-the-scale criminality & corruption, a bust economy, mass unemployment, a mind-boggling incarceration rate, a civil war in Mexico, an un-winnable war in Afghanistan and an even higher rate of drug-use (both legal & illegal) than in all other countries that have far more sensible policies.

    Prohibition is nothing less than a grotesque dystopian nightmare; if you support it you must be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, insane or corrupt.

  • Lee Goleizit | January 24, 2012 11:52 PM

    Wonderfully articulated. Hear, hear!