Overview: Featuring extensive access to law enforcement, METH STORM tells the story of rural, economically-disadvantaged users and dealers whose addiction to ICE (a super strain of Meth) and lack of job opportunities have landed them in an endless cycle of poverty and incarceration. Following police and DEA agents struggling to stop the cartels, the film is both a cautionary tale and a high-stakes drama told from inside the war on drugs.Drawing on a decade of experience as war correspondents, directors Brent and Craig Renaud (HBO’s DOPE SICK LOVE and LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL: 50 YEARS LATER) embedded themselves deep in the American drug culture over the course of two years to film this disturbing look at methamphetamine addiction. The documentary focuses on an impoverished rural Arkansas community where abuse is rampant, thanks to a plentiful supply of cheap and potent imported crystal meth and a depressed economy that offers little incentive to kick the habit.
Expectations: Seeing the trailer and reading the descriptions of this film harkens me back to the older documentaries that were under the AMERICA UNDERCOVER banner in the mid-‘80’s. It appears that in METH STORM, like many of those older films, the filmmakers win the trust of the subjects and spend time at length with them, even a few years if that is what it takes, to understand and capture their story. It is a highly appreciative nonfiction format of mine when done right. I suspect METH STORM is such a documentary and I am looking forward to it.
Gut Reaction: Yes, it was done correctly in my opinion. The Renaud’s wanted to get a strong sense of how meth was getting into the country. If you think about the notion that drugs are not pouring into big cities as much as these deadly drugs are sneaking into the USA via the quiet, backwater places like rural Arkansas. It only made sense for them to tag along with law enforcement agencies on a pursuit. The opening car chase was a great beginning to that story. In fact, that story, from the DEA’s perspective, could have been enough of a strong documentary in itself. But, METH STORM goes deeper.
The filmmakers actually befriend a family well enough to get their permission to film their lives and their messed up drug habits. And the camera is just a lens showing the lifestyle and being non-judgmental about it. The story of economically poor people like Veronica and her sons is tough enough, then to see them caught in the fierce loop of drug dependency spending the majority of the money they get on drugs makes you want to scream. The rest of society is not as non-judgmental as the camera and Veronica knows it and is bluntly honest about it. This is what is happening in the underbelly of America and the cartels are cashing in on it.
From squalling children, to living quarters strewn with dog droppings, to being high as a kite in the shade of your porch during the heat of the day, to being highly distraught over a loved one’s arrest and prison stay yet again, it all plays out in an exhausting cycle. It is truly a storm taking the country with a struggling enforcement, as diligent as they are, not seeming to make any headway in halting it.
A tough yet great documentary.
Bonus: Brent and Craig Renaud had a Q & A with HBO:
HBO: Why did you decide to split the film’s point of view between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the members of the community?
Brent Renaud: We didn’t know exactly where the DEA angle would go, but once we started meeting the officers, and realized they’re from the community, arresting their own friends, we saw how deep the issue was. It affects everybody, and we realized these guys were characters too. This is a story we haven’t heard before. You need to know more about cops than the fact they shoot people; and you need to know more about these people who get caught up in the drug life. I think everybody defies stereotypes in this film.
HBO: Can you talk about your experience with Veronica in particular?
Brent Renaud: This documentary was a collaboration between us and the subjects. You have to open your heart and your life, and you have to believe in it. Veronica was a unique character in that she’s had a tough life, but she’s also a super intelligent woman; in a lot of ways, she’s a victim of her situation. The newer generations don’t remember a time it wasn’t like this: They don’t know a world where there were job opportunities or people around them not addicted. You get that perspective with Veronica, she can kind of see the whole picture.
Craig Renaud:She spoke openly and honestly about her kids’ drug abuse. One of the things we talk about a lot with this family is how tightly knit they are — even through the drug addiction. If one of them is getting out of jail, Veronica’s right there with them. She genuinely loves her kids, but there are obviously some things that are problematic with her as a mother.
HBO: What didn’t we get to see that really stuck with you?
Brent Renaud: When you go on these busts, you see how these people are often carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cartel but they’re still living in these conditions. Very little actually trickles down to them. It just made me think there’s another side of America that people don’t know about, and I think it’s way bigger than anyone imagined.
In Conclusion: To spend two+ years filming this story did remind me of the AMERICA UNDERCOVER pieces of decades ago. This is not like a glossy celebrity biography, this is a hard look at the ills within real society. Take it in.
Next: THE NEWSPAPERMAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN BRADLEE, which debuted 12.04 is next as HBO focuses on the iconic Washington Post editor.
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