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!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Rest In Peace Madiba

Like many of us, I was saddened to hear the news of Nelson Mandela's passing. He was a man who lived life knowing that the only way to heal and move forwards is to live a life of forgiveness. That was his biggest strength and should never be forgotten.

Madiba  has been an idol of mine for years. I’m not the only one, I know, but in a world that can be tainted by cynicism and apathy, here was a man that lived his life to make a difference and to show that harmony can be made between individuals, no matter how seemingly different. He knew that beyond our perceived differences, we all really value the same things in life and equality is the first step in gaining them.

He was an incredibly compassionate man, with a highly infectious personality and a yearning to always see the positives in the world. But make no mistake, underneath his joyous character was a will of iron and a steely determination to unite a torn nation that had been wounded by racial segregation.
The fact he did so by preaching reconciliation and forgiveness is the measure of a man, and the reason why he touched billions of hearts and minds around the globe.

I had the unbelievable good fortune of meeting him in South Africa  when I was a teenager. I remember being slightly nervous meeting such an impressive person, but he had this wonderful ability to put you at ease and soothe any nerves. His charm has been widely recognised and he certainly didn’t disappoint. He had a real humility when meeting us all and seemed to be naturally curious and amused by the charm of life.

He was a leader in the best possible sense. He used the power that he had for good, to heal and change things for the better. I will never forget my meeting with him, but my abiding memory of him won’t be that day, but what he achieved in his life and what he stood for. I can only dream of having a fraction of the positive impact he has had on this planet, but I’m going to give it one hell of a try and we can all play a part in making this world a better place to live in.

Nelson Mandela has had an extraordinary impact, and I hope that the world he has left continues to grow and flourish. I already see that there are fears that racial tensions will re-surface in South Africa following his death, but I believe the impact he had in life is so strong that the world will feel it forever.
Because of Madiba, social peace and equality in South Africa became more than just a dream. His ideal of the Rainbow Nation will forever be a fitting legacy to a quite simply remarkable man.

R.I.P Madiba - the man who brought together a nation and inspired a world.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Are we heading in the wrong direction?

Like many people, I like to cycle. I do it several times a week, and it’s something I love - it keeps you fit and you're also helping the environment. But if you have ever cycled through London’s city streets then no doubt you have stories of near misses, what-could-have-beens and perhaps reminders on your body that highlight the danger of cycling in London.
And you are still one of the lucky ones.

As you are no doubt aware, in the capital this month six cyclists have been killed.
It’s absolutely tragic, and highlights the needless danger that cyclists face. But their deaths should not go in vain. This should be a catalyst for change, for proper infrastructure to be put in place that gives cyclist peace of mind that when they are cycling in the city they are not accused of having a death wish.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Like many times when something tragic happens, rather than focus on the key root of the problem and plan a long term strategy that might not yield instant results, people of power look for the the short term and easy fix to the problem.
And this particular plaster comes in the form of lorries. According to stats, more than half of cycling deaths involved  heavy goods vehicles in the last four years.

Something obviously needs to be done, but all the talk seems to be about banning lorries in  rush hour. Obviously, any change is good change, but I hope more is being planned. Heavy good vehicles would still be present for large bulks of the day, and in even greater numbers if the ban on rush hour is put in place. What needs to be done is to put proper structures in place - like more cycle routes and ones that suddenly don’t place you in dangerous situations. It’s an absolute no brainer for me.

Safe roads for cyclists, Less congestion, a positive impact on  the environment and people’s wellbeing. It's not just London, obviously. There are dangers whenever you cycle. Myself, Laurence and Freddie had many near misses when we cycled across Europe (see pic, top).

We just have to be safe, and cyclists also need to do their part as well.

I’ve invested in BLAZE, which is a bike light that heavily increases visibility for cyclists. With a clearer understanding of the dangers on the road and better infrastructures in place, we could see a road system that is safe, environmentally friendly and is befitting of a city like London.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Don't put yourself in a Box

I am in the beautiful country of Rwanda and it has thrown up lots of thoughts about our nature as a species. Having been observing the Mountain Gorillas on the Rwandan Congolese border the last few days, it has made me think a lot about human nature. The similarities we have with a species that shares 98.5% of our DNA is astounding. I could see the thought in their eyes and the intelligent nature of their being, constantly relating their behaviour with our own. Well i now realise that although we are very similar, that 1.5% they don't share, is a blessing for them.

It is hard to think that not long ago where I am sitting right now in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), screams will have been heard and the stench of death will have filled the air.  In a brutal Genocide between the Hutus and the Tsutsi's, this country was ravaged by what must only be called, mass hysteria and our species at its worst.  These branded titles cast upon the people of Rwanda by the colonialists in an attempt to control them, later fuelled the divide that ripped apart a nation.   Kids in school were made to stand up and they would be told that they were either a Hutu or a Tsutsi. This labelling was formed upon, economic background, facial features and all sorts of other unfounded reasons. They were given passes and a once whole nation was divided. 10,000 people were killed each day for 100 days and 1 Million men, woman and children were killed by their neighbours and even by their own families. This labelling for me is the foundation for any major conflict we have faced in our history. Divide…

I believe that registering differences between our species will do exactly what it says on the tin… create 'differences'. By doing this, we are paving the way for our own downfall. The exact box we put oneself in for security, ultimately drives the fear that kills us. Humans in our nature are social beings and it is understandable that we crave an identity. Whether it be right wing, left wing, Hutu, Tstsi, liberalist, socialist, communist or any other divide. We all have differing outlooks on the world but at the heart of it all, we are people. People who care about the same things. Health, happiness, security, family and the wellbeing of the people we love.

It is fear that drives us to act in a way that victimises our fellow man. A fear that those in power sometimes exploit. We must see ourselves as one global community all striving for the same goals in life and if we are ever faced with a divide, stand up for what we believe in to be right. Bad things happen when good people don't speak out. We all have a voice. Don't put yourself in a box. Be your own person and be accountable for your own actions. Embrace all people in the world with compassion and empathy and in doing that we will pave the way for the healthy and sustainable future.

Desmond Tutu, who was a cornerstone for court of reconciliation after Apartheid in South Africa, looked to the future and realised that forgiveness was the only way forward after all the atrocities committed. He says to the world UBUNTU - 'A person is a person through other persons'. We must embrace this idea and see ourselves in others, as it is them who make us who we are.

I am a big believer in the human spirit being able to adapt and although we are a young species, we are learning from our mistakes.  I will strive in life never to be put into a box, as this stops us from being able to look objectively on life and therefore we are unable to make the best decisions.

I have used this quote from Albert Einstein before, but in this context it is a perfect summary of the point i am trying to get across:

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

What I love about his words here is that the mere striving for such a perspective is in itself creating the foundation for a more peaceful world. Therefore we don’t need to put all the focus on 'how can little old me possibly make a difference', but on just trying to live a more compassionate, open minded life and in doing so you are being a part of the thing you are trying to create. Imagine if Gandhi had said 'how can I possibly make a difference?' I believe apathy is one of the most destructive things on the planet.

The media spreads fear and puts people in boxes on a daily basis and it affects the way we act and think. It has a profound influence on the behaviour of its audience. Fear is used to control people and it divides us. It is so important moving forward to not base your opinions of the world on the medias take. It is in their interest to sensationalise and in doing so this clouds the truth.  We must be our own educators and drive towards creating a balanced global perspective.

The world is at a crossroads and I am very excited about the future. I believe that my generation is much more open minded then the last. Via the internet, access to information and education is much more accessible and finally it has connected the world back into a global community. The technology which drove us apart is now bringing us together.

Individuals are no longer in charge. The collective voice of the people are. Lets use this voice to bring all of us together and in doing so, pave the way for a more peaceful and sustainable planet.