American University’s chapter of React to Film is a documentary film club geared towards raising awareness about important social issues through organizing free documentary screenings on campus twice a semester. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was shown this past Tuesday (11/5) for the club’s last film of the semester. Even after cramming in a few more additional rows of chairs and having standing room in the back, there was still barely enough room to fit everyone. Apparently students at American University are looking at every avenue possible for ways to cut down on their ever increasing tuition fees. The film itself describes how to “level up” through the ranks of the illegal drug trade, from recreational user all the way to cartel lord.
Unfortunately, the comic video game imagery weaved throughout and a couple semi-surprising facts are just about the only elements that set the film apart from the tidal wave of drug related movies that have been released over the last twenty or so years. All fictional and documentary drug films seem to follow the same formula: First, ease into the subject lightly with lots of smiling druggies describing how fun illegal substances can be and how quickly you can make stacks of cash by entering the drug trade. Build on that high by moving to seductive depictions of the lavish, pleasure-filled lifestyle that could potentially be yours if you are willing to take some big risks and start selling “weight,” i.e. larger and larger amounts of drugs. Then suddenly change to a depressing tone to surprise the audience with in depth descriptions and examples of how completely the lifestyle can ruin you and those you love. Finally, wrap up with some statistics and/or tears that slam home how drugs and the drug war perpetuate violence and addiction with massive costs to the poor for the general benefit of the politicians and the drug kingpins.
How to Make Money Selling Drugs follows the structure I just explicated to the letter, in addition to not presenting any strikingly new insights about drug policy, trade or abuse for anyone who is familiar with the United States’ drug war. Thus, the film’s strength is in the coherence of its presentation of the conflict, not in any radical reinterpretations of, or captivating and original information on the subject itself.
The panel after the film, however, was a great bookend to the event. Comprised of two interviewees featured in the film, Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and Neil Franklin, executive director of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the panel presented opinions not explicitly stated or fully developed in How to Make Money Selling Drugs. Responding to questions from the audience, both panelists explained their own roles they have adopted in the war against the war on drugs, what each thought was the best path to achieving deregulation in the U.S., and then how drugs should be managed by the government in a post-drug war society.
Even considering my misgivings about the film itself, React to Film’s event was, undeniably, a huge success. The screening attracted men and women of all ages and the discussion with the panelists was lively and stimulating. What remains to be seen is how many drug czars the event will produce on campus.
Below is a quote about the club and last Tuesday’s event from Amanda Zimmerman, one of the co-heads of React to Film along with Emily Zabaleta and AmLit’s very own co-editor-in-chief, Samantha Falewee.
“I’ve been one of the REACT to FILM AU Chapter Leaders since my sophomore fall semester and it has been amazing watching the organization transform over the years. Our screening of How to Make Money Selling Drugs was by far our most successful screening yet. We had almost 100 people come out and we really tried to make the experience of the screening unique. Over the course of the past year, we’ve taken on 13 new team members who deal with event aspects ranging from marketing to graphic design to social media. REACT to FILM AU is not just about watching awesome documentaries, it’s become a creative outlet for the students involved and an interactive viewing experience for all those who come to our screenings.”