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Call+Response is a one-of-a-kind documentary examining the global slave trade. The film mixes live performances from artists like Imogen Heap, Matisyahu and Cold War Kids with expert testimony and undercover reporting to expose an illicit trade that is stronger now than ever. RELEVANT talked to the film’s director/producer, Justin Dillon, about the problem of global slave trade.

How big a problem is slavery currently?

This is a 32 Billion dollar a year business. It is the second most profitable illicit trade surpassing arms and on the heels of narcotics. There are over 27 million people trapped in this trade, with more than 200,000 here in the US. There are more slaves in the world today than during the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

What prompted the choice to make music such an integral part of the film?

Music is my emotional language. And I wanted to communicate an issue I care about in a language other than standard documentary fare. Music makes you feel, its doesn’t ask you to feel. You have no say in the matter. So you mix the power of music with a difficult topic, and you hopefully end up with something that causes us to move on our feelings.

In what tangible ways is this film combating slavery?

First of all, inside every movie theater the viewer will have the opportunity to engage in issue directly from their theater seat. During the film you will be asked to text “CALL” to 90999. In doing so you are given the opportunity to donate $5 to a project we are sponsoring out of the film. You will also be directed to our website,, where everyone will “find their response” to this issue. Whether it’s our consumer initiative called “SLAVEFREE” demanding products free of the taint of slavery, or an opportunity to map slavery in your area, or a graffiti tagging campaign called “TAG-YOU’RE-FREE,” anyone can get involved. We are also sponsoring projects all across the globe with our partners where activists can give and become a part of the story. We are also pushing the idea of OPEN SOURCE ACTIVISM, that basically states that all talents, ideas, and networks are needed in this critical movement.

The element of faith is present but not dominant in this film, for example, with IJM, an explicitly Christian NGO. Did you see any difference in approach to this issue from faith-based groups or individuals and those motivated toward the issue from other viewpoints?

This issue does not hold on to any one faith or political view. Groups like IJM continue in the great tradition of the Quakers who fought fervently against slavery or even Salvation Army whose early work was fighting “white slavery” in London during the late 1800’s. People of faith have a firm spiritual understanding of oppression and redemption. So the spiritual is manifest in the physical. This issue hits across races and across borders. It’s a women’s issue, it’s a children’s issue, and it’s a justice issue. In many faiths, caring for women and children is a rule, not a suggestion.

What went on behind the scenes in meeting with other musicians and
urging them to get involved in Call+Response. What kinds of reactions did
you get?

The musicians are all top notch and came to the film set completely prepared. They did their research and showed up wanting to convey the message into their performance. One special moment was with Matisyahu. He had been at the studio all day and had already performed two songs. He was on his way out the door when I asked him if he had ever performed Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” To my surprise he said he had never performed it live, but was willing to take a shot. We only had enough film for one pass, so we just let it fly. It’s a beautiful song and he nailed it. At the end of the song he kept going into trancelike free-form story about a girl trying to find her way back home. The band was following him all the way through this story. The cameras kept rolling and it was just gorgeous. I looked around the room and several members of the crew were crying listening to this performance. Just as he finished his last line, the cameras ran out of film.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle lying in the way of this movement
really taking off and bringing about justice?

History only remembers the movements that worked. Fighting slavery globally will take commitment. You have to have more commitment than the guy who is making money every day selling a 9 year old for sex. Let me tell you something, that guy is committed. He will protect his business because it’s wildly profitable. Will we be more committed than him? Will we run uphill to save a few people at a time? Will we be open to new ideas over the long haul of 20, 30, 50 years to root this out? That is what I am talking about. I think we can. It’s amazing what can happen when a mass of people band together against something. I believe in that.

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