×

The House I Live In

A ballsy mix of interviews and editorializing that's daring enough to question a costly crackdown that has long had the public's support.

With:
With: Michelle Alexander, Shanequa Benitez, Mark Bennett, Mike Carpenter, Larry Cearly, Eric Franklin, Glendon Goldsboro, Maurice Haltiwanger, Carl Hart, Nannie Jeter, Anthony Johnson, Gabor Mate, Mark Mauer, Richard Lawrence Miller, Charles Ogletree, Kevin Ott, Susan Randall, David Simon, Julie Stewart, Dennis Whidbee, Fabio Zuena.

What was Nixon thinking when he declared America’s “war on drugs”? Forty years and $1 trillion later, director Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight”) takes inventory of the true consequences of this losing battle in “The House I Live In,” a ballsy mix of interviews and editorializing that’s daring enough to question a costly crackdown that has long had the public’s support. This essential-viewing docu-essay, which alarmingly likens current policies with Germany’s pre-Holocaust conditions, should spark considerable press attention, which can only benefit the pic’s theatrical prospects.

Jarecki’s interest in the issue is indirectly personal. Inspired by the death of his housekeeper’s son, he traces the cause to drugs, and when he takes a step back to examine what’s being done about the problem in the United States, he finds a scheme designed to get politicians elected, keep minorities off the street and support a massive prison industry. Instead of encouraging treatment or addressing the root causes of drug addiction, the laws are designed to crack down on the end users and petty dealers, resulting in a system with more citizens behind bars per capita than any other country in the world.

While the statistics are alarming, the film is anything but a dry PowerPoint presentation on the subject. Beginning in a personal place by explaining how his Jewish family immigrated to avoid persecution in Europe, thereby laying the groundwork for the Holocaust argument that resurfaces later, Jarecki cycles through a sprawling cast of characters — from cops to criminals to distinguished Harvard professors — whose insights and articulateness will eventually become clear.

Researched over the course of three years, involving travel to all corners of the country, the project covers an astounding amount of ground within its just-shy-of-two-hours running time. Jarecki recaps the history of America’s antidrug movement twice, first giving the accepted 1971-forward version that began with Nixon, later revising that to suggest a more insidious sociological theory by which laws were passed to target specific racial groups identified with various drugs (Chinese opium dealers, black cocaine users, Mexican marijuana smokers).

According to Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” there are more African-Americans incarcerated today than there were enslaved 10 years before the Civil War. And those that are brought to trial are subjected to harsh mandatory minimums, clogging prisons with nonviolent criminals; until the Obama administration, sentences were 100 times stricter for crack than for cocaine. While the latter is seen as a white person’s party drug, anti-crack rhetoric preys on citizens’ worst fears of minorities and has been disproportionately applied against blacks, who represent only 13% of the country’s crack users, but account for 90% of those arrested for it.

Though the film’s entire ride is eye-opening and angry-making, late in the argument Jarecki returns to his earlier Holocaust comparison. It’s a loaded analogy and one that any rhetorically savvy viewer would be inclined to dismiss. But star interview subjects David Simon (producer of “The Wire”) and historian Richard Lawrence Miller summarize the case for which Jarecki has spent the previous 100 minutes building evidence. In brief, drug laws have been engineered to identify and ostracize certain minority groups, after which authorities use these codes to confiscate the property and deny the rights of targeted individuals, removing them from society and concentrating them behind bars.

In the past, filmmakers from Cheech and Chong (“Up in Smoke”) to Ron Mann (“Grass”) have made punchy films aimed at legalizing drugs. Instead of advocating tolerance for drug use, Jarecki puts faces to those being arrested and voices to the individuals responsible for processing them on a daily basis (including judge Mark Bennett, prison guard Mike Carpenter and officer Fabio Zuena, as seen on “Cops”), and thus conveys just how untenable a 40-year war against America’s own citizens has gotten.

Popular on Variety

The House I Live In

Production: A Charlotte Street Films presentation of a ZDF/ITVS/BBC production in association with Aljazeera Documentary Channel, VPRO, Louverture, NHK, SBS-TV Australia. Produced by Eugene Jarecki, Melinda Shopsin, Samuel Cullman, Christopher St. John. Executive producers, Nick Fraser, Joslyn Barnes, Danny Glover. Co-producers, Katherine Fournier, Alessandra Meyer. Directed, written by Eugene Jarecki.

Crew: Camera (HD, DV, VHS, 16mm), Sam Cullman, Derek Hallquist; editor, Paul Frost; music, Robert Miller; production designer, Joe Posner; sound, Matthew Freed, Timonthy McConville, Arthur R. Jaso; re-recording mixer, Christopher Koch; lead producer, Melinda Shopsin; associate producer, Shirel Kozak. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2012. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: With: Michelle Alexander, Shanequa Benitez, Mark Bennett, Mike Carpenter, Larry Cearly, Eric Franklin, Glendon Goldsboro, Maurice Haltiwanger, Carl Hart, Nannie Jeter, Anthony Johnson, Gabor Mate, Mark Mauer, Richard Lawrence Miller, Charles Ogletree, Kevin Ott, Susan Randall, David Simon, Julie Stewart, Dennis Whidbee, Fabio Zuena.

More Film

  • Hannah Minghella

    Bad Robot Poaches TriStar Pictures President Hannah Minghella to Lead Film Unit

    In a surprise announcement Thursday, J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot revealed it has lured away Sony Pictures executive Hannah Minghella to lead its film division. Minghella will report to Abrams and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath. She will oversee both development and production. TriStar executive vice president Nicole Brown will take up the mantle in the [...]

  • Paul Dano arrives at the 71st

    'The Batman': Paul Dano to Play The Riddler

    Paul Dano is in talks to join Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. “The Batman,” sources tell Variety. Though the studio would not confirm the role, insiders believe that Dano would be playing the classic comic book villain The Riddler. Dano’s casting comes on the heels of Jonah Hill turning down an offer [...]

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • This-is-Cristina

    FiGa Films Takes Salma Hayek-Exec Produced ‘This is Cristina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leading international sales agency-production-distribution company, FiGa Films, has snagged all worldwide rights to “This is Cristina” (“Ella es Cristina”), the directorial debut of Chilean scribe Gonzalo Maza, who has co-written four of Sebastian Lelio’s films, including his Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman” and Berlin Festival winner “Gloria.” “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with Gonzalo, whose writing [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in principal photography on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was shooting on black-and-white film stock, if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call [...]

  • Plaza Catedral

    Panama’s Abner Benaim Wraps ‘Plaza Catedral’ Starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (EXCLUSIVE)

    Panama’s internationally best-known helmer, Abner Benaim (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”) has just completed the shoot for his second fiction feature film, “Plaza Catedral,” starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (“The Good Girls”), and Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”). Salas plays a 42-year old grief-stricken woman, Alicia, who has severed her ties with married life and society. Her [...]

  • Mamoudou Athie

    'The Front Runner's' Mamoudou Athie Joins 'Jurassic World 3'

    Mamoudou Athie has joined the cast of the third installment in Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s “Jurassic World” saga. He joins Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who will reprise their roles from the previous films, as well as Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, who starred in the original mega-hit “Jurassic Park.” Colin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content