The meth doc at SXSW raises a lot of questions

A scene from “Meth Storm: Arkansas USA”

“Meth Storm: Arkansas USA” has a weird vibe. It’s undeniably groundbreaking. But it’s also undeniably troubling, from an ethical standpoint.

Before we get into that, let’s just lay out the facts.

Veronica Converse, a resident of Faulkner County, Ark., is a meth addict. So are her kids. She lives in a trailer. She has several offspring. When they need to shoot up, she’s there to help. She has agreed to give the Renaud brothers unprecedented access to her family and their addictions for a documentary.

As the documentarians point out, there’s an economic crisis in central Arkansas. And many people need to deal in meth in order to support their habit. It used to be that they could cook the meth and sell it locally, but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement folks and the Drug Enforcement Agency and other government bodies have shut down local production, so it’s coming in from Mexico these days. And the meth is a cheaper version known as “ice,” which is a bit odd since that’s the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At any rate, much of Converse’s life is dealing with one of her addicted sons, Teddy, who goes in and out of jail, depending on what month it is. His kids rarely see him. He trades in meth. He gets caught.

The Renaud brothers, Brent and Craig, also take us inside the enforcement agencies, watching ICE do its thing — busting folks in Arkansas, sending them to prison, questioning all of the suspects, hoping that something will lead back to the source of the meth supply in Mexico. That’s the reasoning, at least.

The U.S. drug folks are never portrayed negatively, and in fact there’s a certain sympathy toward everyone in this sordid tale. The officers behave respectfully toward those they arrest, and they aren’t abusive. In fact, most of the officers know the folks they’re arresting. It’s all very sad.

The officers lament cutbacks in their budgets. But it’s rather clear that they’re never going to get to the Mexican cartels that are supplying meth to Arkansas. But the Renaud brothers don’t really explore this angle.

It’s also rather questionable that authorities act as though they have made major progress after multiple arrests in central Arkansas, during the 2014 “Operation ICE Storm,” which is detailed in the documentary. Converse has more than a few snickers for the claims that a major breakthrough against the meth trade has been made. So props to the Renaud brothers for showing that.

But the Renaud brothers do something that some folks might find very troubling. They include underage kids, the offspring of the Converse clan, in the movie. These are kids 6 years old or thereabouts, and they have no say about being included. But they are. And it’s heart-breaking. And I believe there are serious ethical questions about their inclusion in the film.

Being a kid in the middle of all this is not voluntary. And the possibility of these kids being ridiculed and ostracized for their parents’ mistakes is obvious. Maybe folks in central Arkansas will never see this, and maybe the kids won’t ┬áhave problems. But I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen them asking their daddy why he keeps disappearing for many months at a time. It’s disturbing.

I asked the publicist for an interview with the directors on Friday, via email. I haven’t heard back. Their decisions make the documentary more powerful. But those decisions also make the documentary more disturbing. I think it’s worthy of discussion. They have their reasons. I have mine.

Whatever the case, the documentary sheds light on a horrible addiction in lower-income America.





Author: Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy edits and writes about books and movies for the Ausstin American-Statesman.

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