With The Wire, David Simon put a human face on the war on drugs. The House I Live In (THILI) gives those people a voice. Drugs themselves are not on trial here; THILI‘s focus is on exposing the war as a means of political progression, financial gain and racial segregation. Its standpoint is made clear from the outset and for the next two hours we are presented with the capitalistic injustices that make it the interest of many that the war is never won; discriminating against a lower class whose social standing makes encounters with drugs almost inevitable.
The war is scrutinised on all levels, from street level dealers trying to scrape together a living to a federal judge struggling with the morality of sentencing offenders to disproportionate prison terms. What all the interviewees have in common is an acknowledgement of the legal oppression taking place yet they are burdened with an inability to change a system motivated by money. It’s the capitalistic focus of THILI that’s the most heinous. Private prisons providing financial stability to communities giving concealed justification for incarcerating those who’ve committed non-violent crimes; police officers indiscriminately shaking down passers by in the most notorious areas to bump up their arrest numbers and overtime pay. THILI succeeds in evoking sympathy for a segment of society too often depicted as uneducated, lowlife thugs.
THILI adorned director Eugene Jarecki with his second Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this. Less self-aggrandising than Morgan Spurlock, less contentious than Michael Moore, Jarecki is an invisible presence, allowing those with a stake in the war to tell their stories. That’s not to say Jarecki didn’t have a personal connection to the story: the project began when Jarecki attended the funeral of his childhood Nanny’s son due to drugs. It became evident that the system was victimising those most vulnerable.
Acclaimed TV writer David Simon gives his candid opinion throughout. Spending over a decade as an investigative journalist in some of America’s most impoverished areas, his insights are highly relevant despite sometimes being too embroiled in his own ideology. THILI‘s ambition may inadvertently detract from its success; the moral and ethical arguments are too many to be contained in a single documentary. Too many subjects give a respectable introduction to the war on drugs and, sadly, none of the facets are fully explored to a satisfactory level. A tighter structure may have remedied this, but its more a victim of the medium than a shortcoming of the filmmakers.
THILI is highly riveting and its lack of a balanced view does feel justified when you consider the plethora of media demonising the drug users and dealers. It presents a country in turmoil, too committed to fighting a symptom of a social issue that runs much deeper than policy makers care to admit; a country all too happy to chastise others for human rights violations, yet too proud to acknowledge its own. THILI provides a great companion to The Wire, though viewers unfamiliar with the show will still find it compelling despite lacking the series’ challenging, divisive nature.