Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Year On And We’re Still Breaking The Taboo

A documentary is all about the story. It should be something that engages, inspires and creates discussion. I set up my production company Sundog Pictures because I wanted to tell the kind of stories that provoke thought, and for our first documentary I couldn’t have hoped for a better subject.

Breaking The Taboo tackled an issue that many not dared to touch. The drug prohibition issue around the world is something very few politicians would talk about in fear they might become labeled as being soft on drugs or soft on crime. In the words of Ruth Dreifuss (Former Prime Minister of Switzerland), ‘Who wants to campaign with a junkie by your side?’.

But I found The War on Drugs such a compelling subject. Ever since then president Richard Nixon infamously started the War on Drugs in America over 40 years ago, it has become the longest running war in history.  That’s over four decades of the very thing that you can alway rely on in war - casualties. The human toll of this needless war is unbearably high and the laws have failed in every respect to do what they were set up to do. Forty five thousand deaths in Mexico in the last few years weren’t caused by drugs… but the war on drugs. That’s why I decided to make a film about the issue.

The film, which is an international adaptation of the Brazilian documentary Quebrando o Tabu, focuses on painting a picture of International Drugs Policy around the globe, the reasons why it has failed and looking at countries that have successfully experimented with other forms of tackling the issue. It calls for an educated debate on the issue and follows the members of The Global Commission On Drug Policy on its mission to tackle the taboo surrounding the United States-led War on Drugs.

Narrated by ‘The Voice of God’ Morgan Freeman, and featuring former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Breaking The Taboo looked with great detail on the human aspect of the the failed War On Drugs. It also shows how the countries who treat people with drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one are succeeding in curbing the dramatic violence and suffering associated with this war. They are realising that drug prohibition has only been worthwhile to the criminal underworld.

Breaking The Taboo was released a year ago, and it’s astounding how much of a positive reaction and support it  has received from those who have watched it.

It wasn’t just the subject that we took a risk on. Myself and others behind the movie didn’t just want to take it around the festival circuit, We wanted to share it with the wider world as soon as possible, so that people could watch it and demand change. A good documentary should not only fire up something inside of you and prompt you to look at the world differently, it should also inspire you to act.

To get the subject as much exposure as possible, we decided to release it for free on YouTube for a month. Doing this was a huge risk, but we felt the film should be seen by as many people as possible, and we felt that releasing it online was such a perfect opportunity to make it as accessible as possible  and start a much needed conversation on the issue.

There has been so much support from activists, celebrities, film fans and many others, that I couldn’t have hoped for a better response.

I was so close to the subject that it wasn’t something I could leave behind once we released it to the world. We still have regular screenings and panel discussions around the world, and I recently went to Hong Kong to show the film and engage in a Q and A afterwards. The film was just the first part in trying to change global drug policy, and we still encourage debate and conversation on several Breaking The Taboo social platforms.

While making the film I began to realise that there are so many organizations out there that are trying to make a change and urging governments to look at other solutions than outright prohibition. And it seems that we are slowly being heard. Behind closed doors many politicians agree with drugs policy reform but don’t feel the political confidence to stand up. We as the public must pave the way for this conversation to be had and for them to be heard.

I was encouraged to hear that in America, following Colorado and Washington State legalising marijuana last year, a recent poll suggested 58 per cent of Americans favoured ending the prohibition against the drug - a 10 per cent increase from the year before. Uruguay are also set to become the first county in the world to legalise Marijuana in a bid to reduce drug crime.

I’m sure we will all be keeping a close eye on how these situations develop. There are positive steps forwards. Many people who are uneducated on the issue think that drug regulation would create a free for all. Actually it is the opposite. A free for all is what we have now. Regulating the market will put more control into an area that has none. We obviously need to be careful in the way we change our drug policies, but without doubt, they need to change.

And while I hope that our film played a part in breaking the taboo  on drugs and I’m delighted to be celebrating its one year anniversary, I’m not one to look in the past. It’s all about the future, and on the horizon there may just be another taboo that we are going to break!

Watch this space!

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