Our friends at the Bertha Foundation have alerted us to a brilliant and timely documentary film Breaking the Taboo, which recounts the history of the war on drugs, beginning with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Narrated by Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman, Breaking the Taboo is produced by Sam Branson's indie Sundog Pictures and Brazilian co-production partner Spray Filmes, and was directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade. Featuring interviews with several current or former presidents from around the world, such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the film follows The Global Commission on Drug Policy on a mission to break the political taboo over the United States led War on Drugs and expose what it calls the biggest failure of global policy in the last 40 years.
Watch the complete documentary now, streaming free online until Tuesday, January 15, 2013. Don't miss this limited chance to see the powerfully eye-opening film, Breaking the Taboo:
I have never looked at a film with as much trepidation as Machine Gun Preacher. The film is based on the true story of Sam Childers, an ex-con and drug addict who went to Africa and experienced a complete transformation. He exchanged his old days of drug addiction and violence to become the impassioned founder of the Angels of East Africa, a rescue organization for children orphaned in Sudan.
I had already known about the unspeakable horrors that families have experienced in Sudan. I had vaguely known about Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord's resistance army (LRA), and how he kidnapped children and then enslaved them. I knew that it would be incredibly painful to see the depiction of children suffering this way and being stripped of their innocence. However, I felt it was my duty as a citizen of the world to see this movie. You bet I was a crying basketcase during this film, but I became a transformed activist as well after the credits rolled.
Sam Childers is a real flawed hero, a larger than life personality that Hollywood scriptwriters can only dream of creating. As an ex-biker-gang member, he found God and made the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war. He became outraged by the horrific violence faced by the region's vulnerable populace, especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it's most needed -- in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal LRA, the renegade militia that forces children younger than ten to become soldiers, or sold into sex slavery (which fortunately was not depicted in this film). But Sam not only builds a shelter, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives. He wields an AK-47 in one hand, and a bible in the other, channeling all of his anger into finding Joseph Kony. That a biker with lambchop sideburns and tattoos could single handedly save over a thousand orphans is an inspiring message that one person could indeed affect positive change.
Actor Gerard Butler gives an intense performance, channeling the intimidating yet empathic Childers. While it is hard to empathize with his unlikable character in the beginning of the film, you transform along with him in his journey toward the end. You see his intensity and passion when he is preaching, even as his Scottish accent is replaced with a very believable Southern drawl. You can feel every bit of anger in the sweat beads on his brow as he pleads with community members to help him with his cause. Equally important to this narrative is his wife Lynn, who patiently and bravely supports him as he sells his business to use the money for the orphanage, flies to Sudan regularly to dangerous missions, and nearly forecloses his home to raise more money for the orphans' food and supplies. Michelle Monaghan was perfectly cast as a woman who appears vulnerable, but has the quiet strength and fortitude to counterbalance Sam's angry and unpredictable outbursts.
Some critics may argue that Machine Gun Preacher relies too much on Sam's boldness and not enough on the character exploration of the children, but I can see the motive. If the job of this film is to embolden people to do more to help the situation in Africa, then the goal has been accomplished. Perhaps the director, Mark Forster, wanted the audience to feel for the children's plight without exploiting them.
Anyone can identify with San Childers, whether wealthy, poor, a victim, a perpetrator, a religious person, or an atheist. If the point is to move people across the board into action to save these children, then I think Machine Gun Preacher does this brilliantly. Of course the children deserve their own narrative, as they are victims of a man that would make Osama Bin Laden look tame in comparison. But they need our immediate help even more. The primary question in my mind after the film was: why don't more Americans know about the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent people they have killed for nearly three decades? Why don't they know that this army forces children to hack their own parents with a machete to death in order to instill violence and self hatred in their young hearts... and making it impossible to return home? Why don't they know that this army decapitates the lips, ears, arms and legs of these children and other villagers to punish them?
While I have always been a donor to Unicef, UNRWA, and St Jude's Hospital, this film compelled me to do two things: First, I donated to Sam Childer's cause at Machinegunpreacher.org/donate. Secondly, I decided to register and participate in the Global Forum on Human Trafficking through Notforsalecampaign.org. The primary victims of slavery still alive in this world are women and children from Sudan to Armenia, Thailand to Brazil. Machine Gun Preacher challenges us to take part in this narrative -- through the eyes and experience of fellow American Sam Childers. As I wrote earlier, I was a basketcase after watching this film, but I have now filled my basket with an arsenal of tools to try and make a difference in these innocent lives, the start of my own journey from a Link TV journalist, to an activist.
Link TV Journalist Blanche Shaheen had the opportunity to interview Machine Gun Preacher stars Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan about their experience making the film. Watch the conversation here:
(France 24: 0839 PST, March 31, 2011) Colombia's battle against armed rebels continues, but now there's a new force to fight. "Bacrims" -- or bandas criminales -- started to emerge after another paramilitary group demobilised in 2006. These gangs are responsible for much drug-related violence and extortion, and the government has deployed 11,000 soldiers to try to bring the situation under control.
Residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (slums) are suffocated daily under the triple weight of poverty, drug cartel violence, and police oppression. In a culture and society as vibrant as Brazil’s, this pressure pushes against the surface with little outlet, especially for the youth. Schools are underfunded, home life is rocky for most, and getting food on the table is never a sure thing. More often than not, kids drift towards the most readily accessible example of people who have escaped poverty: the drug runners and gangbangers. Positive role models are few and far between in a sea of rickety shacks and makeshift abodes. In 1993 in the midst of the Vigário Geral favela, however, a seed was planted in the minds of a few brave individuals-- a seed that would grow into an idea and a way of life that gave hope and provided direction to a generation of favela youth.
Anderson Sá was a typical young kid in 1993, in the process of being sucked into drug trafficking like so many others. That year a tragedy took place so devastating that it would be forever burned into the memories of favela residents. The Rio police, enraged by the killings of four officers, stormed Vigário Geral with guns blazing, looking to kill anyone in sight. When the shooting finally stopped and the dust cleared, 21 innocent people were dead. Anderson Sá’s brother was among them. This had an immediate and life-changing impact on Anderson. His mother worried that the killing would push him further into the world of drugs, but it had the opposite effect. Right then and there, he set out to find a way to stop the endless cycle of violence that his community was trapped in.
Anderson’s thinking soon led to the realization that the only way to end the culture of violence was to substitute it with a more positive cultural model. The first manifestation of this was the Grupo Cultural AfroReggae, a cultural group focused on music and black culture that Anderson started along with his friend José Junior and others. It published the AfroReggae Noticias, a newspaper for youth that focused on hip-hop, reggae and soul music. There was such a need for a positive cultural message that their first community center, the Núcleo Comunitario de Cultura, was opened. It filled a void in people’s lives, and all of a sudden kids in the favela had a place to go to learn music, capoeira, theater and dance. They opened the Vigário Legal AfroReggae Cultural Center in 1997, a larger facility in the community. The musical aspect was especially appealing, and from there Banda AfroReggae was formed. It soon became a huge hit in the favela, thanks to some donated percussion and sound equipment. The band and the movement steadily gained national popularity, thanks in part to the charismatic face of the organization, Anderson Sá.
Several years later, budding filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist was at home in Brooklyn when he received a call from his friend Matt Mochary, who was on the phone from a favela in Rio. Jeff and Matt had been looking to make a movie focused on an example of a successful and innovative community in Latin America, and Matt had found the perfect story. He wanted to examine the community built around AfroReggae and how other communities and favelas throughout Rio were confronting violence. Jeff was sold on the idea, to the point that he quit his job and met Matt in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vigário Geral. The scope of the movie steadily shrank as the process progressed and it became more and more apparent that Anderson Sá was a natural vehicle through which to tell the story of poverty, violence, and AfroReggae.
Jeff and Matt spent three years filming in the favela, making many trips back and forth between Rio de Janeiro and New York and becoming close friends with the leaders of AfroReggae. The film Favela Rising emerged naturally from their experiences. It was one of the first documentaries to shine a light on the violence that grips the everyday lives of poor people in Brazil. It shows how courage in the face of fear and intimidation can change the futures and destinies of kids whose outlooks were once hopeless. It illustrates the power that music has to transform society.
Join us this Sunday at 11pm EST/8pm PST for the DOC-DEBUTpremiere of the groundbreaking documentary Favela Rising.
This week Latin Pulse goes to Colombia to investigate the often-dangerous undertakings of independent journalists, in a country plagued by drug-trafficking, corruption, and violence. The journalists are pushing up against the boundaries of free speech as they struggle to tell the stories of the country's bloody reality, a task they feel is key to creating more peaceful Colombia.