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December 8, 2006 - Chronicle Herald (CN NS)

A Fresh Look At The War On Drugs

Frustration Over Attitudes About Substance Abuse Led To Documentary

By Tim Arsenault

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

IMAGINE A CANADA where marijuana is legal and a prescription gets you a hit of heroin or cocaine.

That's the proposal of Senator Larry Campbell, the former cop and mayor of Vancouver whose life inspired the Da Vinci's Inquest TV series.

Such controversial and contrarian views are at the heart of the provocative Damage Done: The Drug War Odyssey, airing Saturday at 7 p.m. on Global as part of the Global Currents series of documentaries.

Halifax director Connie Littlefield said she has an ongoing interest in drug policy. Putting together a previous project got her thinking about the topic in a fresh way

"I've been working in film and television for 20 years but I guess what crystallized it for me was when I made Hofmann's Potion, a film I made at the (National) Film Board a couple of years ago. I pitch 20 proposals for every film I actually make - it was just one that got funded - but making that film really set me off in some interesting directions," Littlefield said during an interview.

"It's the hypocrisy of it that really appals me. I just can't quite figure out how we can call ourselves an enlightened society and still turn a blind eye to something that seems to be doing so much damage yet it would be so simply cured if only we would come to terms with our own feelings about substances."

Damage Done depicts many people who have wrestled with their stance on forbidden substances, most notably members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The group claims about 5,000 members and anyone can join, but LEAP was founded by police veterans who gradually concluded that the traditional war on drugs was illogical.

Among them is former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who declares that the basis for most contemporary police corruption is the drug trade.

Cele Castillo worked on the front lines with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Or he did until he witnessed a pick-up soccer match between drug agents and the local cartel.

Howard Wooldridge, who put in 18 years in law enforcement, rides a one-eyed horse across the U.S. to draw attention to the issue.

"They have the strength of their own convictions. At one point in time they were just ordinary cops. They were just enforcing the law the way it was written. Something happened to change their minds. I think that in the process of that epiphany, if you will, they had to become stronger. It made them heroes, in my opinion," said Littlefield.

"And that makes them very filmic, so I kind of exploited that. The guy's riding his horse across the country to protest the drug war. What's more filmic than that. And the horse only has one eye. I mean, come on."

It's a good thing Littlefield did a lot of advance work on the film because when the project got the green light there was not a lot of time to improvise.

"We developed the film on very little money for a couple of years so we had a lot of time to talk about it and become familiar with the subject area and the characters. But when the money finally came through it was conditional upon being delivered in October for broadcast this weekend."

Tenacity also paid off in securing an interview with former New York City cop Frank Serpico. His one-man crusade against dirty cops was made into a classic '70s movie starring Al Pacino.

"He's not a member of LEAP officially, although he totally supports them. He's just not a joiner, really, as you might think," said Littlefield. "I'm talking to him about potentially making another documentary about the roots of police corruption."

The director is anxious to see what reaction her film will generate, particularly through the wide availability of the Global broadcast.

"Global is airing a 45-minute version this weekend. There's also a 54-minute version which includes a couple of other American characters and that is what we refer to as the NFB version. It's hopefully going to be distributed all over the world and through the NFB's resources in North America and hopefully you'll even be able to buy your own copy one day."

Damage Done was produced by Ann Bernier for Halifax's imX Communications and Kent Martin for the National Film Board's Atlantic Studio.

Littlefield isn't sure what her next project is going to be but has a need to get to work.

"I'm waiting to see if I can get some development money and get going on something. I'd like to do something again really soon because it's kind of addictive, the filmmaking process."

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