Elston Gunn Interviews Director Kevin Booth Of AMERICAN DRUG WAR: THE LAST WHITE HOPE!!
Published at: March 6, 2007, 2:59 p.m. CST by merrick
I'm Elston Gunn...
Kevin Booth's film AMERICAN DRUG WAR: THE LAST WHITE HOPE, an eye-opening and compelling examination of the war on drugs, won the Best Documentary awards at both the DIY and Evil City film festivals, the latter of which featured filmmakers Morgan Spurlock and Mary Harron as judges.
Additionally, High Times magazine gave the film four full buds, it's highest rating (no pun intended). Booth, who authored the book BILL HICKS: AGENT OF EVOLUTION about his best friend and notable cult comedian, was inspired by the loss of those close to him to legal substances to try and make sense of what is dubbed "the longest, most costly and destructive war in American history." And oh, the things he discovers. Three minutes into the doc we are told the main source of funding for Partnership of a Drug Free America comes from the tobacco and alcohol industries. Booth captures the perspectives from a former LAPD narcotics officer, gang members, prisoners, cops, a sheriff, a former New Mexico governor, civil rights attorneys, Tommy Chong and Ricky Ross from jail and a host of others.
AMERICAN DRUG WAR: THE LAST WHITE HOPE along with the Bill Hicks karate comedy epic NINJA BACHELOR PARTY will be screening at the Druid Underground Film Festival at the Il Corral in Los Angeles this Sunday, March 11, at 7 pm.
Booth took some time to answer questions for AICN.
[Elston Gunn]: You were prompted by the alcohol, cigarette and prescription drug related deaths of family members and friends to personally find out exactly why these drugs are legal and others are not. At what point did you realize you should make a documentary about this? Where did you start?
[Kevin Booth]: When my mom was dying from liver failure, she was in an ICU unit with several others facing the same fate, all from a life of hard drinking. I was hit with this horrible smell that sickened me so deeply that I instantly lost my appetite for alcohol. After attending my third funeral in a row, I realized that the corporate culprits, Smirnoff, Dewar's, RJ Reynolds, DuPont and others, would never be punished. Perhaps the last straw that angered me was the brilliant Nick & Norm ad campaign launched by the post-9/11 Bush administration in which the government was claiming that pot smokers support terrorism.
So, in a way, this three and a half year journey has been fueled by hatred for a government that has long sold out to corporations.
[EG]: At any point did you think the topic was too broad? From prisons to medical marijuana,to gangs to the CIA and Afghan poppy farmers to Joe Rogan smoking weed on camera, you could've made a miniseries.
[KB]: It's a good thing you didn't see the first cut. I suppose my aim with this film was to show the many fronts that this war is being waged against the American people. I guess the trick is getting all these subjects together in one film and not having it feel like the ramblings of a schizophrenic. Hopefully, the final edit currently under way will achieve this, but perhaps someday it could be a miniseries.
[EG]: Why do you think the drug war seems to be such a huge failure? Is it simply money?
[KB]: For those waging the war it has been an incredible success, it's a perfect business model, the government profits from distributing drugs into the ghettos of America and then profits from locking people up for using those drugs. The drug war is only a failure for the rest of us who must suffer from the greed of these corporate shills .
[EG]: The privatization of prisons and the part that plays in the drug war was particularly fascinating. When did you first learn about that?
[KB]: It's the coincidences that kill me, such as during the Reagan administration, oddly enough, we had mandatory minimum sentencing for drug possession. Reagan's Drug Act that made the penalties for crack a hundred times worse than powdered cocaine and, lo and behold, private corporations being allowed to build and run prisons. What's the point of building all those new Wal-Mart's if you can't fill them with customers?
[EG]: The comparison of the Prohibition era to the drug war was interesting and you raised the question "Is meth a modern day moonshine?" Plus, you had people who were unfamiliar with meth in Amsterdam.
[KB]: The problem is that most young people today don't know anything about Prohibition. It's interesting to note that Prohibition didn't end because they decided booze was good for glaucoma or even some moral issue. The number one killer drug, alcohol, was legalized because they realized it was so profitable. People should also note that when alcohol was made legal the moonshine business became non profitable. When the police ask users if they prefer crystal meth to cocaine they never add "what if cocaine was cheap?" Because when I ask meth head tweakers that question they always say they would rather have cocaine.
Why would people do crystal meth if they could have a real drug that comes from the Earth? I wish everyone who considers themselves to be a Christian would examine the organic basis of the drug laws in Amsterdam. Do you trust guys in white lab coats who only answer to a board of directors, or do you trust a plant that has been growing on this Earth long before mankind existed? Believing that both evolution and all of the religions that preach brotherhood are true, I'm am going to have to go with God and not the lab guys, even if he or she is only the lesser of two evils.
[EG]: In your own words what was it about Ricky Ross' story that you felt was important to the film as opposed to other individuals you could have talked to?
[KB]: To me the story of Freeway Ricky Ross is as American as apple pie a la crack. Not only is it the "Scarface" rags-to-riches tale, it's also the story of Oliver North and the Iran Contra scandal that most Americans seemed to have forgotten. It's outrageous enough that Rick is the only one of those guys serving time, but the co-conspirators of North/Reagan are back to their old tricks working in the new Bush White House. For those of you rolling your eyes, Google "Crack & CIA."
[EG]: Interesting that you have a former smuggler, a former DEA agent and a former Republican governor of New Mexico essentially saying the same similar things.
[KB]: I guess its nice to know that folks on both sides of the law are still willing to tell the truth even though it may not always be the most profitable choice. I believe that this tidal wave of indignation focused toward the Bush administration is long overdue. It's like a domino effect; once people wake to the scam of Waco, Okalahoma City or 9/11 all these phony drug laws become more and more politically obvious. I thank God that the average American seems to have gotten over the "the government cares about me" hurdle that everyone seemed to be stuck on after 9/11.
[EG]: I'm sure investigative journalist Gary Webb was someone you would've really wanted to interview, whose story prompts me to ask... any concern for your safety? Mike Ruppert said some pretty ballsy things, too.
[KB]: I know it may sound trite, but Gary Webb was one of the next people I was going to interview when I got the news about his "death" - "suicide" - "assassination?" But for me I'm not really worried, because it's not like I'm pointing fingers at individual people like Ruppert or Webb. I mean, nobody ever got harmed exposing an evil government or corporation, did they? I mean, the government and the large corporations care about me, why would they want to harm me?
If the DEA says smoking POT will kill you and Bush's Texas body-double Rick Perry has mandated every young woman to take a cancer vaccination or they will face penalties, you got to believe it's true! Of course, the fact that Merck Pharmaceutical gave Rick Perry a quarter million dollars is pure coincidence. The drug war is proof positive that they care about us like a rancher cares about his herd. It's PROFIT & CONTROL.
[EG]: How important do you think it is to focus on the decriminalization of drugs versus legalization? Sometimes people use the terms synonymously, but there is a difference.
[KB]: I would be lying if I told you that we should legalize crystal meth, or many other strong drugs that will cause people to do crazy things. That said, does someone belong in prison for possessing these substances? And how do you draw a line between the type of person who would sell to a child or someone who is responsible and simply wishes to use behind closed doors, perhaps harming themselves, but not harming others. Seems like the basis of all laws in a free country should be based on Ye Old Ten Commandments deal.
Though shalt not Steal, Kill, Rape, you know all the real crimes. But as Republican Governor Gary Johnson says "we give people in some cases longer sentences for possession of marijuana than we do for murder or rape." I would like to hear Mr. DEA or Mr. Undercover Narc explain that one when someday he or she must pass through the pearly gates. "You see, God, we decided this plant you left growing everywhere poses too much of a threat to our entire industrial, war, pharmaceutical, prison machine... AHHH OK, you caught me, I just wanted to keep my job and I didn't care whose lives I destroyed."
[EG]: What was the most surprising aspect of the drug war to you?
[KB]: That none of these gung ho drug warriors have the guts to be on camera. In a way I really respect Sheriff Joe because he has the balls to allow everyone to see who he is, which is more then I can say for the bulk of them. If you're willing to ruin people's lives because of your personal beliefs, then have the balls to stand up and say why. But they don't because its all a bunch of gray-haired fearful little men who fight to protect Nixon's fraudulent war that in turn protects their profit margins.
Most every black person living in the ghetto will tell you that they hate the police. I don't hate the police; I hate the fact that these drug warriors are using my tax money to pay police for basically protecting the interests of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Pharmaceutical corporations. Don't take my word for it, look up the yearly death stats of all illegal drugs vs. Alcohol, Tobacco and Pharmaceutical.
Then look up the yearly death stats of marijuana and ask yourself, "Why would they lock people up for this?" Superior Court judge Jim Gray puts it best, "Eighty five percent of all illegal drug users only use marijuana, so if you took marijuana out of the equation, the entire drug war machine would crumble." It breaks my heart to think of all those prison guards losing their jobs, and they couldn't start selling drugs because if you end the drug war, dealing would cease to be profitable. Maybe all these drug warriors would be forced to get educations and real jobs. I'm a dreamer!
[EG]: What have been some of the biggest challenges in making the film and getting it seen?
[KB]: Prisons are as hard to get in as they are to get out, especially these private prisons. I think I could have had an easier time finding Bin Laden than what I went through trying to interview Tommy Chong while in federal prison. I also wanted to portray gangs in a different light, because I'm so sick of the same tired headline about the murderous gangs of Los Angeles, I always knew that these are people who are just playing the cards they have been dealt.
I highly recommend BASTARDS OF THE PARTY out on HBO to learn the true history of gangs in Los Angeles. I'm no journalist, who am I kidding, I'm so involved in everyone's lives now its ridiculous. I helped Bloods co-founder get a Paypal account and web site, trodgers.com, and I plan on starting a business with Ricky Ross when he gets released, not because he is some famous kingpin with his own BET special, AMERICAN GANGSTER, but because he is one smart motherfucker who I happen to like and respect as a person. (I could start the Adopt-a-Crack-Kingpin Foundation for guilty white people.)
[EG]: Any advice for aspiring documentarians?
[KB]: God, you better LOOOOVE your subject, and make sure the people your surrounded with are prepared to watch you transform into an obsessed single minded broken record. My poor wife, Trae, has been listening to me ramble every single day for the last 1350 days about the drug war, but I could have never done it without her. I'm coming on four years now, and even though I have won best documentary at the Evil City fest in NYC and the DIY fest in Hollywood, I am still working on the gersh-dang thing. Four years ago, I thought I would film for a few months and edit for a few months then watch the big bucks come rolling in. Classically, I chose a subject that is just so huge and complicated, but, truth-be-told, I love working on it and I will miss it when its all over.
[EG]: What projects are you working on next?
[KB]: After three years of doom and gloom I could use a change of pace. I'm currently in talks with director Curt Johnson about several different projects from a HALF BAKED pot comedy to another serious doc about the Patriot movement in Texas. The other night I actually attended a private Bloods rally to investigate the idea of setting a different type of story in a certain South Central neighborhood. At the rally I was exposed to this brown cylindrical shaped object with smoke trickling out of one end that caused me to become disoriented, the gang members call them "Blunt" or "da-Blunt?" I'll be able to tell you more about this curious artifact when the test results come back from the lab.
[EG]: I know you were close friends with Bill Hicks, any upcoming Hicks-related plans?
[KB]: Many American Hicks fans don't know that I have a book out on Harper Collins U.K,. BILL HICKS: AGENT OF EVOLUTION, available at sacredcow.com. Yes, there is a new Hicks doc in the works and it looks like it will be the best one yet, but my pale-skinned pals across the pond want to keep a lid on it for now.