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Danny Glover on ‘The House I Live In’ and Documentary as a Tool for Social Impact

Danny Glover on 'The House I Live In' and Documentary as a Tool for Social Impact

I had the pleasure of serving on the BRITDOC Impact Award Jury in 2012, so it’s great to see a film that I had a hand in executive producing with my partner Joslyn Barnes at Louverture Films among the winners of the award this year.

The documentary “The House I Live In” premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, was released theatrically in over 100 cities and was then broadcast nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens. But some of the real work came after, when The Eisenhower Project (TEP) began using the film in a far-reaching campaign to promote greater public awareness of the US War on Drugs, its destructive impact on poor and minority communities and the urgent need for comprehensive reform.

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Designed and implemented in concert with several non-profit partner organizations, the campaign is unprecedented in the scope and agility with which it deploys a public policy film to promote awareness and seek reform at both the national and state levels. The campaign’s activities combine high-profile screenings for opinion-makers and lawmakers in major urban centers with smaller, grassroots events in churches, prisons, and schools across the country. All of this is carefully planned to gain maximal exposure for the film and its cause across the fullest spectrum of mainstream print, television, radio and social media outlets. Combining rigorous on-the-ground activism with a robust commitment to public relations, the campaign fully leverages “The House I Live In” and its ancillary print, online and video materials as galvanizing tools for a national rethinking of America’s drug control policies. 

Over the past two years, this approach proved effective in states and cities where the film was used for publicity and education. In Colorado and Washington, the film helped promote public awareness of Amendment 64 and Initiative 502, measures that ultimately passed, legalizing marijuana in those states. In California, the film was screened publicly for months in advance of the overwhelming election-day passage of Prop 36, reducing the severity of California’s notoriously draconian Three Strikes Law.

The campaign has also been actively involved in educating the public about the impact of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy, which, at its height, led to over 700,000 New Yorkers being stopped annually. NYC Mayor de Blasio has offered a sweeping repudiation of the controversial practice, acknowledging that it unfairly targets young men of color. This marks a huge shift in the city’s policing tactics. More recently, New York became the 23rd state to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana, after the campaign worked hard to publicize the underlying issues to New York officials. In the recent November 2014 midterm election, Oregon and Alaska voted to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, and a majority of Floridians voted to legalize medical marijuana, even though the initiative failed to pass.

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Leading up to Election Day, the campaign organized events and press in and around these states to help galvanize support for these crucial steps towards a sensible drug-control policy. Additionally, the campaign worked with the ACLU in San Diego to educate California constituents on the successfully passed Prop 47, which will reduce the severity of minor drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Looking ahead, the film will be used to publicize emerging areas of reform, such as the “Youth Promise Act,” proposed by Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, California’s “Juvenile Second Chance Bill” and Connecticut’s “Juvenile Sentence Reconsideration Proposal.”

Alongside such targeted efforts in individual states and local communities, the outreach team continues to find ways for the film to fundamentally shift the national conversation away from seeing drug control as a criminal justice issue to seeing it as a matter of public health. It’s an honor to be recognized with the BRITDOC Impact Award, and it will only help further the film’s reach.

This is part of a series of blog posts ahead of tomorrow’s announcement of the winners of the BRITDOC Impact Award, which celebrates annually the documentary films that have made the greatest positive impact on society. www.britdocimpactaward.org

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