We all love to zone-out, to watch something trashy and just disengage the brain for enough time to waft away the smells of the outside world. Though, every so often, like many, I like to forcibly enrage myself in some kind of cinematic sauna in efforts to let off steam, hulk-up over injustices and to shout at the screen in efforts to ‘wake people up’. Yes, the obligatory tinfoil hat will be insinuated as the mandatory dress code here, but we all have issues which hold a special resonance. Finding those reflective mirrors of passion can be quite therapeutic.
In one way or another I’ve been lucky to work alongside some of the hardest hitting documentaries currently around. A couple of years ago I attended the premiere of Sundog Picures’ Breaking the Taboo. This 2012 documentary is perhaps the best and most succinct in giving an overview of the ‘war on drugs’. Since its premiere, Breaking the Taboo has gone on to screen in a number of high profile arenas. This once more brings me to my opening point: no longer are films made to put on the shelf for their interested patrons to stumble upon, no, documentaries are forming organic roots in activism, splaying out with a contemporary determination to start movements.
Another example of an enabler for debate is that of The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki. This Oscar shortlist film, much like Breaking the Taboo, screened in UK parliament in front of an audience of politicos. The House I Live In takes a more personal look at the drug war. The film details, in its heart-breaking capacity, the real faces of criminalized drug laws.
I had the privilege of seeing both films on many occasions, and on each occasion I spent my time watching audience reactions as the inherently real stories and the stark reality of broken lives were opened up on screen like a social dissection, as visceral as quite literally it was.
Enacting social change is hard. Anyone that’s been involved in any degree of activism will know that turning a tide is biblically challenging. There’s never been a better example of the arduous and life-altering quest for change such as the GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution. This new and unfunded documentary aims to tell the neglected story of UK medical cannabis users with an array of serious conditions.
Director, Dale Beaumont-Brown, is in process of trying to fund and make sure this chapter of questionable morality is appropriately represented.
And this is the point. With the film industry, like any other, going through its own period of regeneration, documentaries are becoming windows, as cliché as that undoubtedly is, to our communities’ deepest causes. Passionate teams are putting up celluloid placards and making sure that voices can’t be ignored.
When I attended the premiere night and Q&A of Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom’s Emperor’s New Clothes, a film which unceremoniously pulls the curtain down on the financial sector, the loudest question from the audience was, “What can we do?” What exactly can we do when we unearth truffles of truth that are of such value that we are unyieldingly compelled to act? It’s now quite simple: share! That’s it, just share. Link up on social media, invite friends round for a film night and go out to sit in a cinema - book tickets for your family while you’re at it. Don’t just watch documentaries, use them.
When the makers of the film The Culture High, Adam Scorgie and Brett Harvey, appeared on London Real, they also brought with them the perfect testimony of how documentaries can have a butterfly effect in the world. With their first film The Union: The Business Behind Getting High acting as the internet cult classic, the sequel, The Culture High, was made owing to overwhelming popular demand. Premiering at Raindance Film Festival, The Culture High went on to receive an Oscar nod and has once more been ‘used’ by communities to host film nights and to challenge dug-in opinions. It’s hard to ignore an issue when you’re placed in a dark room with reality hitting you in the senses like a factual roundhouse.
There are, of course, many other great documentaries out there – all with worthy causes. I would certainly urge you to set aside one night a week to find a documentary and to get restless in your chair. When you find those gems, use them to make a bigger noise.
The Culture High, Breaking the Taboo and The House I Live In are available on Netflix
Help fund GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution on their Kickstarter.