AMERICAN DRUG WAR Has Found A Home On Showtime, And Elston Gunn Has Another Chat With Its Director!!
Hello. Elston Gunn here.
Last year I interviewed filmmaker Kevin Booth about his documentary AMERICAN DRUG WAR: THE LAST WHITE HOPE, which was hitting the festival circuit and seeking distribution. The film is an examination of the government’s war on drugs and its failings, while also providing a voice to a few of its more fervent crusaders. Since that interview, the documentary has hit DVD shelves, picked up some festival awards and found a home on cable, airing in rotation on Showtime’s channels for the next couple of years.
Booth took some time to answer more questions for AICN.
[Elston Gunn]: Congrats on the Showtime deal and the DVD. Are you happy with the way the film is out there?
[Kevin Booth]: Like anyone who makes a film I wish it had been in 4000 theaters for two months, but having Showtime broadcast it on their main channels fifty times in March definitely got it out there into the public consciousness. After reading the fine print on six different DVD distribution offers, we decided to self-distribute with a company called Passion River as a wholesale partner. It only took us about two months of selling the DVD on SacredCow.com and Amazon to surpass any of the advances we had been offered, and now instead of some company making all the profit and sending me royalty statements telling me how much money they are losing, we are at least starting to pay down some of our debt.
ADW starts back up on Sho2 and Showtime Exposure on August 4 and will rotate though the various Showtime channels for the next two years. The deal we did with Showtime allows us to simultaneously have it in theaters, and on any given week it's playing in a handful of various art cinemas around the country. ADW also premiered on Fox in Australia and will be broadcast in Poland and Lebanon with full translations. I received a goat and three chickens for the Lebanon deal with an escalation of a sack of flour based on the primetime Hezbollah ratings.
[EG]: With the exception of the personal material regarding your brother and maybe the short section on ritualistic drugs, it didn't obviously appear to me that you added a lot of new footage, but rearranged what you had. What all did you learn with this new edit?
[KB]: As you know, one of the main characters in the film is Freeway Ricky Ross who was making millions of dollars a day selling Crack that was supplied by the CIA. After AMERICAN DRUG WAR won a few small festivals, B.E.T. did a 1-hour special about Ricky Ross that covered word for word about ten minutes of my film. After shitting in my pants, I decided the only way to save face was to some how top the bastards. I was able to contact a former top CIA officer by the name of Robert Steele who had become very vocal about his hatred for Bush and Cheney, and had him fly out to the West Coast for a few days of interviews.
It's the revelations of these interviews plus an entirely different story strand and completely different edit that made the final version of the film a product that everyone seems to embrace as well as being glued to the screen until the end. On my early edit I would always see people looking at their cell phones about fifteen minutes before it ended (not a good sign when you see those little lights popping up all over the theater). I actually played a different version of the film at every single screening and festival, something I highly recommend to anyone who has trouble making permanent decisions as I do.
[EG]: What did you use to shoot and edit?
[KB]: I shot on the classic Panasonic 24-frame DVX100 always using a wireless mic along with a shotgun. I edited on FCP, mixed on Logic and Pro Tools. I also used a variety of cheap camcorders for some of the surveillance shots.
[EG]: I'm sure you're getting a wide array of responses to this. But no matter what side of the political spectrum one aligns themselves, do you find that most believe that the "drug war" as we know it is ineffective?
[KB]: Totally. I can't even remember if I have gotten one single nasty email - maybe one, but of course they used a fake name which is indicative of the mind set of these rat turds. (I use that expression out of love and respect.) No different from when I was filming - people who were against the drug war could not wait to talk, while those who believe in locking people into cages for growing a plant have no reason to show their faces. The day after it premiered on Showtime I literally got a hundred emails that almost all read the same: "I always knew the Drug War was a scam, but I'm writing to thank you for finally connecting all the dots." That and "I just got arrested for drugs can you help me?"
[EG]: "Prohibition never works as well as regulation and control," was said and repeated. Is crystal meth the modern day moonshine?
[KB]: I believe that crystal meth, PCP, under the sink inhalants, or any horrible brain damaging substance kids are using in order to get high is "Modern Day Moonshine". When prohibition ended in 1933 do you think people kept on drinking moonshine? It was expensive and caused blindness as well as tasted bad - or so I have heard. Here in Southern California you have over 400 legal medical marijuana dispensaries and I don't know anyone who does meth... you do the math. Don't believe the phony propaganda the DEA tells everyone like "marijuana dispensaries attract crime" - total 100% bullshit!! These places are like high-end Starbucks; you want to see crime, let me drive you to the liquor store. But the real reason they keep it illegal is that 85% of all illegal drug users ONLY smoke marijuana. So, if you remove marijuana from the Drug War equation, the entire scam would crumble, private prisons and all, because there would not be enough arrests to keep the 100,000+ drug warriors employed and the profitable prisons full while running protection for the billion-dollar pharmaceutical, tobacco and alcohol industries.
Put it this way - if I could plant and grow a bunch of Prozac plants in my back yard, then Prozac would magically become Schedule 1. My favorite fantasy of them all? "The gateway theory." I'll tell you a gateway to hard drugs - its called alcohol and you can buy it the grocery store, crash your car, go back and buy some more, rob a bank and buy some more.
[EG]: This is such a multi-faceted issue. It's fascinating, for example, that Gary Johnson (former Republican governor of NM) is talking legalization drugs one minute and advocating the privatization of prisons the next. It seems like no two people agreed on going about the fight the same way.
[KB]: I did that on purpose to show that no matter what side of the fence you're on, its still not a black and white issue. So, yes, Gary Johnson is a brilliant man who realizes the drug war is killing America, while at the same time he's a multi-millionaire who owns construction companies that probably build prisons. His reason was that it's cheaper for the tax payer, but like most Republican politicians, you not going to get them to agree to any type of conspiracy. It's like trying to teach a cat to swim - ain't going to happen.
[EG]: Educational programs was mentioned early in the film as a helpful tool. What kinds of educational programs are showing a positive effect in terms of drug reduction?
[KB]: In my opinion, any kind of education that tells the truth and doesn't necessarily tow the line of the government's views that are only controlled by Wall Street. Like governor Gary Johnson said, "you tell children that marijuana is just as dangerous as meth and then like most normal kids do, they try marijuana and then start to think, 'hey, if the government is lying about marijuana, they must be lying about meth.'"
So, this over-the-top "All Drugs Are Bad" sentiment these mad mother types have is really so damaging in the long run, but let them find out when their own kids are selling their bodies to supply their drug habit of a drug that was supposed to be just like marijuana. Only the truth works - period!!
[EG]: Have the presidential candidates said anything regarding the drug war to catch your attention thus far? What are you hoping for realistically?
[KB]: McCain is a total Maverick. Did I say Maverick? I meant Mummy, when it comes to any type of change. There is a really funny video of a guy from L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) asking McCain a question. He gives the most retarded "drugs are bad" speech you have ever heard. Obama is better, but disappointed me a little when he said that he didn't plan on wasting much political capital over the drug war. I understand, he needs to win first and he needs to seem tough on crime. I guess it would be every old grey-haired white man's nightmare - a black president pardoning all the drug users in jail - lets party first and then we will kill whitey. I have actually been contacted by the Democratic Party to help get Sheriff Joe out of office as well as perhaps form a smart stance for Obama regarding how to better fight drugs.
Realistically, it would be nice to at least get medical marijuana legalized in all the states and to get the federal government and DEA out of the business of abusing sick people.
[EG]: I thought Tommy Chong and his family recounting his arrest and sentence was compelling.
[KB]: It's important for people to realize that if the government can go after a millionaire movie star they can go after anyone. But what makes it so outrageous is to learn Tommy was singled out because of who he is, because of characters he has portrayed in movies. It's a slippery slope if our government can arrest someone because he played a stoner making fun of police. What's next? Who's next? Pete Townsend for Child Porn?
[EG]: Are you going to keep following this particular issue? Planning a sequel?
[KB]: Yeah, I don't know what it is, but I love the subject of drugs. Maybe I just really love drugs, but for me the party is over so the next best thing is to insure that other young men and women have the right to experiment with their own minds and bodies without being locked in a cage as long as they don't harm anyone or anything, other than their own bodies. Its called freedom... Something that our founding fathers were fond of.
Congressman Barney Frank recently introduced a bi-partisan legislation aimed at removing federal restrictions on the individual use of marijuana. In support, we are offering to send a DVD to your congressman or State Rep. at no cost if you order one at the regular price from the website.
Go to www.AmericanDrugWar.com and www.SacredCow.com.
[EG]: What are you working on next?
[KB]: Several things. We are putting out a soundtrack CD for AMERICAN DRUG WAR, that should be out before the holidays. As for future films, a documentary, a narrative and a reality show, some exciting Bill Hicks stuff on the horizon, but I'm sworn to secrecy.
As Ron Paul put it in the film, "People need to realize that through most of our history we didn't have federal laws against the use of drugs "
So, I say, why not make committing a crime be a crime, if someone is on meth robs a bank or hurts someone he belongs in jail. If he is only on meth, then perhaps he needs help. It's called logic and it could help us all out, especially knowing that this drug war has now cost us trillions of wasted tax dollars, while imprisoning millions of non-violent users.
Anyone out there interested in helping, please email Showtime requests to bring AMERICAN DRUG WAR on the main Showtime stations.
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Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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July 24, 2008, 1:25 a.m. CST
He was on drugs... right?
July 24, 2008, 1:40 a.m. CST
This "war" against our own citizenry has cost us more than the war in Iraq, and is equally ineffective.<br><br>As a side bonus, it is directly responsible for the funding of terrorist paramilitary organizations in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, and countless other countries. <br><br>America, fuck yeah!
July 24, 2008, 4:09 a.m. CST
eh eh eh meh
July 24, 2008, 8 a.m. CST
by Kentucky Colonel
I got to know who Kevin was through his association with Bill Hicks. Kevin is another agent of Evoloution, and in the words of Alice Cooper "The Words He Speaks Are True". I haven't seen ADW yet, but I think I"ll be ordering a copy on payday. <p> Kevin, if you read this, try to get the film shown here in DC (again, if I missed it the first time). I suggest you contact the Arlington Cinema & Draughthouse (703-486-2345), The Landmark E-Street Theater (202-452-7672) or the Bethesda Row Cinemas (301-652-7273). Love to have you come to town & do your stump speech! <p> KEEP THE FAITH!!!!
July 24, 2008, 8:26 a.m. CST
reading interviews by people who are so far left. He can barely get the courage to say hes "disappointed" in Obama. I'm sure that took all his might as a far left lib.
July 24, 2008, 9:19 a.m. CST
...is that a inside nod to the big BIO-PIC I've heard about? Something like Ron Howard directing and Russell Crowe as Bill? He would be an interesting choice but I think John Cusack woould be much better. ADW was fantastic...keep up the great work Kevin!
July 24, 2008, 11:05 a.m. CST
just because someone is against the drug war they are a "far left lib"? what about fucking ron paul?
July 24, 2008, 11:07 a.m. CST
More people will post to talkback than will actually see this film. You know this to be true.
July 24, 2008, 1:48 p.m. CST
by Fireball XL-5
Pretending that the anti-drug forces are the real villains in this whole pathetic scenario is juvenile. For God's sake, even those of us who use or have used drugs treat them as something to be put aside one day.
July 24, 2008, 3:18 p.m. CST
Here's an idea... why don't you people watch the film and take in the information that it presents before you go making uninformed statements about it? I'm sorry, I know, that's crazy talk! No one's "pretending that the anti-drug forces are the real villains in this whole pathetic scenario" - American Drug War proves it. Not to say that many drug users aren't criminals - that's all in the film too. Would Elston Gunn be giving ADW attention if it wasn't the real deal?
" even those of us who use or have used drugs treat them as something to be put aside one day" And lucky for you – you got to try drugs and them set them down. What about the million non-violent drug users living behind bars today? I guess they were not as lucky as you.
July 24, 2008, 4:42 p.m. CST
by Mister C
does EVERYONE want to be seen as a goddamn rebel "fighting the power" people like this have become so damn hypnotised they ignorantly accuse people or the "evil scary manipulative governmant" of falling prey to the hype of how bad drugs are, when this fucker is getting caught up in this "rebel" craze everyone is going through, bitching and moaning about how evil the people with power are as opposed to the good clean innocent and pure people like himself who, if givin the power, would just magicially fix everything. People like this preach how screwed up the system is and how everything would work out if everyone would just do exactly as he says, but thats bullshit, there is NEVER a definate solution, there is not "absolute truth" about any of it. The world is full of stoners as it is, the citizens of the world don't need one more thing to fall back on to help them escape the real world.... the real world needs to be met with a clear fucking mind. People who dont think pot doesnt any real harm are either lucky enough to have never experienced it or too uncaring about the real problems to notice it, too selfish and simply want an easier way to get their stuff...no pot isn't this terrible thing we make it out to be but damn we need to learn to fucking live without it. I am not againest the use of marijuana personally, because i think if we all relaxed alittle bit more we could enjoy this world and make it alittle bit more enjoyable, but damn.....and one more thing, WHY ARE WE SO GODDAMN QUICK TO LABEL HEROES AND VILLIANS. Mccain is a villian because he's white and old.... But obama is a hero because he's black and younger....he represents change, and change is ALWAYS GOOD RIGHT? RIGHT RIGHT? thats why he'll win the election. because we have been convinced by everyone that white people have an evil hold on the world but if the minorites had control everything would be ten times better and everyone would love each other cus as everyone knows, black people are tolerant of everyone....bullshit.....not too long ago a black man couldn't walk in a white neighborhood without getting scared away...now a white man can't walk through a black neighborhood either. We need to stop labeling people as heroes and villians, Whats wrong with Mccain being old? some would say he has a greater chance of having attained some wisedom. But none of the candidates are worth spit imho. Anyway back to my main point, people need to get the fuck over this "being a rebel and exposing the truth" fascination if things arent exactly perfect then people will raise hell that things need to be completely redone. No. NO.. NOO. Nobody is working to improve things, instead they want to "change" things because what we have now hasn't givin them INSTANT results and they have zero patience, in the end people like this will put us in an even worse position.
July 24, 2008, 4:48 p.m. CST
Great documentary! Most of you who don't like it probably haven't seen it..
July 24, 2008, 4:59 p.m. CST
Could you do us all a favor? Go be a good citizen and have a beer. God Bless America
July 24, 2008, 5:09 p.m. CST
by Mister C
I guess thats a way of telling me to relax and yea, my post prolly seemed tense but it was actually more of a way for me to just express my anger rather than start a fight. The movie may very well be entertaining and well done, but if there was a show on TV that was a doc about how butterflies are really aliens or something like that, i really wouldn't need to see it to know that the people who ARE watching it are being spoonfed BS.
July 24, 2008, 9:44 p.m. CST
Most of the documentary contains pure fact, along with interviews with former Governors and DEA agents. I couldn't even put it in the same category as any conspiracy film. To me it just seemed like interesting documentary that made a lot of sense; and none of the content promoted drug use. I encourage you to watch the film and decide for yourself. Remember, that with the internet there is an infinite amount of knowledge at your hands... if you think a documentary is lying to you, you can research for the real facts.
July 24, 2008, 11:07 p.m. CST
This is not a conspiracy or some radical redesign of our form of government.<br><br>In fact, it's the exact opposite: a call to return to the tenets with which this nation was founded -- our Constitution, which PREVENTS government from interfering with the right to do with our bodies as we please, so long as we hurt no one else in the process. The "Drug War" was not born of "villainy" -- it was a well-intentioned experiment by Mr. Nixon. But after 30 years it's time to admit that apart from its unconstitutionality, it's a colossal failure on every level, and has had unforeseen ripple effects here and abroad that have actually made things WORSE.<br><br>This is way bigger than McCain vs. Obama, or Right vs. Left. This is about tyranny versus personal liberty. I choose liberty, and so did the tens of thousands who gave their lives to create a nation that would preserve such liberty, almost 250 years ago.
July 26, 2008, 12:20 p.m. CST
Though I agree 100% with the sentiment in dismantling the war on drugs, I finally got to see this, and it is a truly awful film. It is completely devoid of focus, or any sort of cohesive narrative thread.<br><br>This is such an important issue, it really deserves better treatment.
July 26, 2008, 1:10 p.m. CST
Are we talking about the same film? Did you watch the prerelease version that's been on Google Video for 3 years or the new, real version that's on Showtime?
July 26, 2008, 1:52 p.m. CST
Can you recommend a film that covers more ground than American Drug War and that's presented better? I'm a big ADW fan and I've never seen anything else like it.
July 31, 2008, 3:14 p.m. CST
I thought ADW was well-researched, personal, and amazing in its number of interviews with incredible people. I thought I knew a good deal about the drug war - turns out I didn't really know much at all. Incidentally, in a recent "Rolling Stone" interview, Obama says, "I believe in shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public-health approach...The point is that if we're putting more money into education, into treatment, into prevention and reducing the demand side, then the ways that we operate on the criminal side can shift. I would start with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders." It's too bad that this issue is pushed to the back burner oftentimes.
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