I believe the medium of film is one of the most powerful tools in the modern era to create positive social change. It has the ability to put big, complex, and controversial subjects across in an easy-to-understand and digestible form. It has the power to change someone’s perspective on the world in a very short space of time—film has the power to change the world itself.
This belief is what inspired me to set up my production company, Sundog Pictures. Sundog is dedicated to exploring new ways of telling stories and bringing new audiences to important subjects. Whether through TV, film, online, app, or web, we will find ways to tell our stories with authenticity, and engage with our viewers beyond traditional means.
Research states that we have a two-week window to act after being inspired by an experience, before the brain is compelled to move on. I have always thought [that while some] documentaries I have seen have educated me, [they] have failed to engage and drive me to act in support of the message. Sundog aims to give our audience the tools to share and really engage with the subject matter of our stories on and off the screen.
Our most recent project is a story that screams to be told. It is a feature documentary about the failed war on drugs, called Breaking the Taboo. Many years ago, my good friend Cosmo and I were discussing the war on drugs, and how the current policies and laws around drugs actually have more of a negative impact than the drugs themselves. Never did I think I would be sitting here writing an article about the war on drugs, having made a film with him about the subject.
Breaking the Taboo uncovers the UN-sanctioned war on drugs, charting its origins and its devastating impact on countries like the USA, Colombia, Russia, and Afghanistan; it features prominent statesmen including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; it follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo and expose the biggest failure of global policy in the last forty years; Morgan Freeman [signed on] to [narrate] the film.
Why would all these prominent people puts their names to such a controversial topic? Well ,for the exact reasons Cosmo and I used to discuss it endlessly: something needs to change. People should care more about the lives ruined and lost by the war on drugs than the futile goal of creating a drug-free society. There are 230 million drug users in the world and 90% of them cause no threat to society.
This is an illegal market that cannot be controlled—the free-for-all is what is happening now. Drugs are available to those who want them. And where are those profits going? Into organized crime, [to criminals] who spend their profits on the destruction of whole societies.
If we heavily regulate the market, we [take] control—it becomes our responsibility to make sure our fellow human is looked after and cared for. [These people] are our children, siblings, friends. People we want in society.
If you have a drug problem, you should be sent to a doctor, not a jail cell. In 1970, there were approximately 330,000 prisoners in the US. Today there are 2.3 million behind bars—more than any country in the history of the world. In 2009 alone there were 1.6 million drug-related arrests in the U.S. 1.3 million of these were for possession of drugs alone. Over half were related to marijuana. The forty-year war on drugs has cost $2.5 trillion.
Incarceration has become a business. It is in the interest of the police and the prisons to keep locking people up.
[As in the case of] alcohol prohibition, illegality has driven organized crime, sent countless people to jail, and killed many thousands. Repression does not work. In the words of the former President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso: “I am not proposing to replace war with peace. I propose to replace war with a smarter fight. A fight using other instruments, more intelligent instruments to convince people not to use drugs. It is why we have to Break the Taboo.”
President Cardoso is a part of the Global Commission on Drugs Policy (GCDP), the purpose of which is to bring about an informed, science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs.
The GCDP is made up of high-level individuals, including ex-presidents. The GCDP has made the world sit up and listen. In 2011, President Santos of Colombia became the first serving president to break the silence and publicly declare that the world needs to look for new solutions.
My measure of success is to walk into a restaurant and hear a table debating drug policy. Once the public start the conversation, the politicians will join—that is when we can create real change.
How do you create a film that can reach millions of people and engage them in the subject? You have to take risks and try something new. This is why we have partnered with YouTube for the release of the film on our own dedicated channel. Even the best documentaries reach tens of thousands in their cinematic window. I believe that by launching online, we could potentially reach millions.
Through social media, we can start a global conversation. This creates an army of advocates—the power really is in the hands of the viewers. I have a vision of a world where we don’t continue down senseless paths, where we care for our fellow human as much as we care for ourselves. I believe the mere striving for such a world is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner and global security.