Friday, October 10, 2008

"Call + Response" is an important indie film about global slavery


Justin Dillon’s film “Call + Response” (or “Call and Response”, website) is being shown, one late show an evening, at the two Cinema and Drafthouses in the Washington area, in Arlington and Bethesda. I saw it tonight at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse to a full audience, almost sold out. I’ve never seen an independent film platformed this way before. The film is distributed by Fair Trade Films.

The issue is compelling: worldwide slavery. The film offers some focus on the sex trade overseas, which often victimizes young girls (sometimes boys). There is a particular vicious circle: Girls get “sold” by fathers in poor countries to pay debts or pay for dowries. If a girl is the oldest child, in some cultures she is expected to allow herself to be sold this way to provide for her parents, a warped form of filial piety. In some cases girls are "sewn" to create the appearance of virginity for "customers." In Africa, especially, girls are likely to get HIV, which results in a finite life span, after which they are "thrown away."

The film explains how the slavery “business” works and why it is so profitable. It also points out that many consumer items that we take for granted (coffee, many clothes and electronics) depend on slave labor overseas.

The film presents short interviews with many celebrities, including former Clinton administration secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Ashley Judd, and Cornell West. A reporter for the New York Times relates stretching his formal journalistic ethics (neutrality) and buying three girls out of slavery, only to see one of them return because of methamphetamine addiction.

The other activity in the film is musical concerts, especially by “Cold War Singers” and “Concert to End Slavery.” Some of the music is composed by Dillon himself. Many of the concert clips are in black and white. There are many overseas scenes of the squalor in Asia and Africa (including the largest lake, with kids diving for fish around tree trunks). There are other stills and clips, often in black and white, with kids’ faces muted.

It is against federal law to travel overseas for the purpose of activity with minors.

Other important recent films dealing with slavery include “Amazing Grace” and “Amistad”. In May 2007 I reviewed Zack Hunter’s book about slavery, “Be the Change,” here.

The Arlington Theater has been around since the 1940s, when it was a "neighborhood" theater that showed movies for a few days at a time after they had played downtown. I saw "Gone with the Wind" there as a boy in 1954.

The film was mentioned (with a brief music clip shown) on the Dr. Phil show on Friday Oct. 10, 2008.

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