The House I Live In is a carefully woven documentary that attempts to explain why the land of the free currently has a higher percentage of its population behind bars than any other country. It reports that the vast majority of those inside are there on drug related charges and since 1971, over $1 trillion has been spent on drug law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration. However, rather than remedy the issue, Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ has lead to the creation of an underclass for whom the drug business is practically the only viable economy. Whole communities of all ethnicities that are being demonized, marginalized and neglected by those charged with their welfare.
Jarecki even goes as far to liken this underclass to the way Hitler viewed German Jews in the run up to the holocaust. Although, at first, this may appear a touch sensationalistic, The House I live In is much more than one man raging against the machine. Emotive language is sparse and the candid views of convicts, police officers, prison guards, dealers and judges are evenly used throughout. In particular, The Wire creator, David Simon, injects passionate yet articulate sound bites that compliment the film’s message without stealing the show. Meanwhile, Jarecki’s narration punctuates the reflections of those interviewed and has seductive quality – his voice uncannily similar to dulcet tones of Alec Baldwin.
The real success of the film is the mixture of the micro and the macro and brings home the realization that we are all essentially a product of our environment. If you are raised in a world where survival is more of a concern the number of twitter followers you have, it soon becomes clear why the dealers do what they do.
Ultimately, no solutions are offered for how the system could change but that seems to be the point. Instead , The House I Live In serves to stimulate debate, which in turn, will eventually lead to a solution. Thus, the real question is how far will a country built on freedom and democracy sink before policy makers acknowledge the ‘War on Drugs’ is over? We Lost.
There are documentaries, there are good documentaries and then there is this documentary, which, hyperbole aside, could be one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to come out of the US in recent times. No wonder it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year.