Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? This week we’ve got  an instructional video on making money in the drug trade, along with a look at the immigration effort, the economic juggernaut that is our modern prison system, and a documentary from the director of Hoop Dreams who has a thing to say about concussions as we head into the NFL’s opening weekend. 

How To Make Money Selling Drugs Trailer

Director Matthew Cooke, who spent his feature length documentary education editing movies like Teenage Paparazzo and Deliver Us From Evil, is raging onto the scene with a real how-to movie about the construction of a drug culture that at once is trying to fight its existence but also showing the temptations it poses to those who are most vulnerable.

What I like about the trailer is that it plays things as an instructional video. It’s tongue-in-cheek but it works because it’s eerily true. People who are stuck with nothing and have no drive or no sense of self-worth, just run down the list, could find the allure of selling or manufacturing drugs too irresistible. We get talking heads telling us like it is from law enforcement, celebrities like Eminem, Russell Simmons, David Simon of “The Wire”, but we also get drug dealers extolling the wonderful upside to drug dealing. What’s amusing about the drug dealers is that while they talk about making big money, never working out that way for those who are on the bottom rung of the organization, this all fits within the sales pitch for the film and for what these guys have to say.

It’s a lot of perspectives on this subject and as long as there are serials surrounding it documentaries like this are great at assessing where we’re at today. It isn’t a drug war, it’s an occupation, and this trailer is able to take a snapshot of what it’s like today for those battling it out on the streets.

Harvest of Empire Trailer

Oh, this won’t polarize anyone.

Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez, relative newcomers to the feature documentary space, are adding to the conversation about the issues surrounding illegal immigration but, like many other documentaries that talk about this, there is a tinge of propaganda, OK there’s a lot of propaganda, that is emanating from this trailer. I mean, if you want to show some impartiality at least wait towards the end before you show some latina getting the cuffs put on her while in full graduation gear, her mortarboard positioned perfectly atop her head. I’m already assuming that everything from here is going to be slanted (not towards the government, I can pick up on that) and makes for a defensive viewing which I think is a shame.

At the heart of this conversation is how we’ve meddled in the affairs of countries all around South America and that it’s contributed to the immigration problem we’re facing today. Again, it’s disingenuous to include the blowhards who populate pop news with their caricatures, speaking in platitudes that are obviously exaggerated, but nonetheless strikes at the root of what needs to be discussed about latinos who are here illegally.

The argument of the trailer weaves across the road as it talks about our military interventions down south and then blurs the line about how that contributed to people coming into America as a result and then reaches into file footage of Ronald Reagan talking about amnesty for those who are here illegally. I’m just not sure what the point is other than saying that there should be a wholesale amnesty given to anyone who finds themselves here in the country because we have contributed to that illegal immigration.

I’m not sure if this will be a balanced investigation into the nuances of immigrants, whether it will talk about Mexico’s own issues as a nation with regards to its level of corruption and how it’s dealing with drug cartels but I hope that’s in there somewhere because I don’t see it here.

The House I Live In Trailer

Eugene Jarecki’s previous efforts, Freakonomics and Why We Fight, were films that challenged notions of what we hold as truths. In the former, he helped make real the thoughts of why things are they way they are while, in the latter, he punched through the talking heads and got down to the economics and psychology of the military industrial complex. With this feature, it looks like he’s breaking down the drug war.

Coming out of the gate with weather beaten and exhausted looking Charles Bowden, a journalist/essayist who’s spent many years writing about the drug trade, is a curious choice as they don’t ever mention the guy’s name or say why this wizened looking mummy is talking about the drug war. Some context with this would have helped contextualize the information. That said, the blasts that come at you as we see how this “war” is really a construct for something more heinous and something more broken that is limping along and dragging, as one judge puts it, poor people and drug addicts along with it.

The case is fairly compelling from a marketing standpoint as the stories it wants to tell feel and look like the kind of thing that can buoy a feature length film. In fact, as the trailer creeps just beyond the minute mark, it really plants its flag in its thesis. Showing us the financial incentives that exist to keep this war on drugs going and the opportunities for entrepreneurs that are standing and waiting to be a part of the economic machine that is our private prison system is stark and stands in contrast to those who ought to benefit the most. What is the cost of rehabilitation and is it possible when there’s no incentive to do so? The trailer makes a great argument.

Head Games Trailer

It’s an argument that’s timely not to mention fascinating from a scientific perspective.

Steve James, who many ought to know from his work Hoop Dreams and the moving The Interrupters, is back with a different story that has only since recently been relegated to a few stories here, a HBO: Real Sports piece there, a column in a newspaper or magazine. Even coming from a standpoint that sports doesn’t hold a grand place in my life this is an issue we’ve all heard whispers about, especially when tragedy strikes.

Whether or not you believe that successive concussions increase the likelihood of brain damage it’s great that the trailer showcases Christopher Nowinski, who has been one of the faces of this crusade, who couches this in a manner that makes it relevant to anyone who enjoys any kind of sport at all where there might be a risk for head injury. In fact, the trailer does a balanced job in showing a multitude of sports and the knocking of heads that can occur in each one of them as it serves up someone who has been affected by it. To hear how the blunt force can disorient and bend time and space in your melon is one thing (and it’s borderline hilarious to see that little kid creamed near the end) but to then see the tragedy that can strike when those hits start adding up it’s just heartbreaking.

If there is a public health hazard in sports that is wildly misunderstood this trailer firmly floats the idea that this would be one area that needs more attention, and does it convincingly.

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

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