Urban Cinefile
"I almost don't know what a character is until six months after I finish playing it "  -- Cate Blanchett
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday September 16, 2019 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



While touring in Russia, musician Justin Dillon met a young woman assigned to interpret for him, who spoke about the 'opportunities' she was offered to come to the West. Justin discovered these were phony, mere tricks that would lead to misery, enslaving the girls in the world's extensive slavery and sex slavery business. Back in the US, he was determined to do something about it, and soon found support from musicians. In the belief that popular music of today is rooted in the music of the slave fields in America, he began to build a roster of artists keen to join his crusade against human trafficking and slavery. The film, a combo of undercover footage, interviews and dedicated music performance - is the springboard for a modern 'abolitionist' movement, calling for action by individuals around the world and reveals that there are more people enslaved today - 27 million - than at the height of America's slave trade.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Laced with the potent music of a dozen bands and solo artists, Call + Response is an urgent call to arms in the war against modern slavery. The third biggest sector of organised crime (after drugs and guns), slavery in its various forms - sex, adult labour, child soldiers and child labour - is scourge that has gone largely unremarked in the world. This confronting doco, combining some grainy undercover footage with telling interviews and the music performances recorded specially for the film, is hoping to mobilise millions in an effort to "fund and celebrate completed projects" with clear objectives, (ie landrover for a child soldier rehab camp, sewing machines for after care training facility).

Call + Response (a phrase from the traditions of American slave community singing) follows the fact based sex slave drama, Trade (2007, Aust release August 6, 2009, dir. Marco Kreutzpaintner, starring Kevin Kline), and other recent activist films like The Cove (2009, dir Louie Psihoyos, Aust release August 20, 2009) about dolphin slaughter in Japan and Food. Inc (2008, dir. Robert Kenner, Aust release early 2010); we should also include the Australian fact based drama, Balibo (2009, dir. Robert Connolly, Aust release August 13, 2009), which has been followed by moves for a war crimes investigation by Australian authorities.

But none have been made like this: it's unique, but not just for the sake of being different. There is meaning and passion in the way Justin Dillon has gathered the information, inspired support and delivered a powerful film with several layers. The music helps make the film less harrowing - but it doesn't dilute the message. Some of the performers are telling their own stories, which adds to the impact. The interviewees are all excellent, from a lucid but passionate and well informed Julia Ormond, to the energetic and dynamic Dr Cornel West, who links the musical traditions, to Dr Kevin Bales of Free The Slaves, who reminds us that the people engaged in the trade are not doing it to be mean to the victims, but to make money.

The clear objectives of the project help ground the film in reality, too, and like The Cove and Balibo, it has the power to make a difference. I can't say it's entertaining or enjoyable (except the music) but I can certainly recommend it as a film with something important to say and a way of saying it that's highly cinematic.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2008)

CAST: Documentary featuring Julia Ormond, Dr Cornel West, Ashley Judd, Madeleine Allbright, Daryl Hannah and artists including: Moby, Cold War Kids, Natasha Bedingfield, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, Five For Fighting, Switchfoot and Tom Petty's Heartbreakers

PRODUCER: Justin Dillon

DIRECTOR: Justin Dillon

SCRIPT: Justin Dillon, co-written by Shadd Williams

EDITOR: Alan Chimenti, Mahoko Kuramasu

MUSIC: various

OTHER: Musical performances directed by Brandon Dickerson

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Heritage Film Distribution

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 22, 2009

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019