Alejandro Monteverde is trying to recover his narrative. The film director — who was born in Tampico, Mexico, in 1977 — has broken a weeks-long silence to talk about the movie that he came up with more than eight years ago. Sound of Freedom has become a phenomenon in the United States. In it, Tim Ballard (played by Jim Caviezel) — an agent at the Department of Homeland Security in charge of fighting child pornography — undertakes a solo mission in Colombia to search for a girl who was kidnapped to be sexually exploited. Despite the heavy subject matter (based on real events), the film has found a place for itself at the box office in a summer dominated by Barbie and Oppenheimer.
Sound of Freedom has brought in more than $180 million — a resounding success for an independent feature film that had a budget of only $14.5 million. Part of the success has been a crowdfunding scheme orchestrated by the movie’s distributor, a Utah-based production company. However, it has also reached a wider audience due to a controversy generated by its protagonist, Jim Caviezel, while he was promoting the film. The actor has repeatedly cited QAnon, particularly one of the online movement’s conspiracy theories that associates certain liberal elites with the trafficking of minors.
Question. How has Sound of Freedom been received outside of the United States?
Answer. I’ve always thought that the United States feels like the biggest island in the world. People think that the American opinion is the only one — it is not. It has been very refreshing to go to other countries and realize that many of the ridiculous labels that [stuck to this film] in the United States don’t stick. The audience has responded, and the press has asked other types of questions. [The coverage] hasn’t focused on conspiracies.
Q. Give me an example of a ridiculous label.
A. That this film is a conspiracy orchestrated by QAnon. It’s as if accusing us of getting financing from aliens. I thought this was going to go away, but it hasn’t. [People say] that this group financed the film. Whoever says this hasn’t seen the movie, because at the end of the film, [the credits show] who did. And these aren’t normal names — these are some of the richest people in the world.
I don’t know why they tried to politicize it. At first, it really hurt me to [see the movie] labeled this way. It’s the worst thing we can do as human beings.
Q. How does all of this make you feel?
A. The motivation of the film was never to go there. It was to create a social dialogue on the subject [of child-trafficking]. In 2015, I didn’t think it was happening. But then, there were documentaries on Netflix in which you can see how [famous figures such as] the leader of Mexico’s Luz del Mundo are arrested and millions of videos of child pornography are found [in their possession]. So, you may ask yourself: those children in the videos, where are they? Two weeks ago, CNN and NBC said that 100 pedophiles were captured in an international raid. 74 of them in the United States. They rescued 13 children, and two FBI agents were killed. And the movie was in theaters. At some point, the conversation strayed. The issue [dealt with] is child-trafficking.
Q. At what point did Tim Ballard become part of this?
A. I had been writing this other film for three months, which was called The Mogul. And Eduardo [Verástegui] — the film’s producer — came to tell me that he had been at an international conference where Ballard was one of the speakers. Eduardo spoke to him at the end of the conference and asked him if he would like to meet his partner — me — who was writing about [child-trafficking]. I was interested in having an expert; it’s very difficult to meet experts [who have worked] on crimes against children. When I got to know him, I started to see how deep the problem is. What I was writing was the tip of the iceberg. His story surpassed my fiction. The conversation changed, and I asked him if the rights [to his story] were available. I began to write about his life.
Q. There have been some critics who have questioned the veracity of what happens on the screen...
A. After meeting the character (Tim Ballard), I thought it would take me three months to write the script. I hit a wall because it was very important to me that the details were real, [that the story was] exactly as it happened. Normally, when it’s a biopic, the character is already dead, so the director has complete freedom and you forcefully take creative license. [But] when you have the character reading every page you’re writing, it’s very difficult to take creative license. It took us a long time, because I, as an artist, had to defend [my creative freedom]. We spent almost two years writing the script. I say that the story is 70% how it happened and 30% [creative], when it came to his first mission after leaving the government.
Q. What was the most difficult part of making this movie?
A. Writing a movie that the audience could digest. Not only digest, but enjoy. Me and my cinematographer (Gorka Gómez Andreu) said to ourselves: “We’re going to make an operatic film to remind the audience that they are seeing the opposite of neorealism.” I remember that I arrived one day and saw the fight scene — they had been practicing stunts for about a week-and-a-half — and I said no, it seemed very real to me. I told them, “It’s a symbolic fight, make it look like you’re on Broadway.” It was more of an exploration of this fight between light and darkness.
Q. You didn’t only direct the film — you also wrote it. But the first to promote it were Eduardo Verástegui and Jim Caviezel. What has made you step up now?
A. Everyone who worked on the film fr— om the person who makes the clothes, the editor, the cinematographer — told me: “You have to come out and speak on our behalf, because they’re accusing us unfairly.” My way of hiding was to write. I was in the pre-production of my new movie. [But] I began to see the importance [of speaking up]. The motivation [came from the fact that], although it sounds ugly, even though Jim Caviezel, Bill Camp, Javier Godino and all the other actors were chosen to work in the film, we do not work for them. It’s as if I’m the owner, the CEO. What they say on a personal level does not represent the CEO. In this case, I’m the author. It struck me that many media outlets didn’t take the time to listen to the author before making accusations.
A. Do you think that the controversy has helped the film make nearly $200 million?
A. Yes, it has helped, but it makes me sad to have to depend on controversy to get there. They say that controversy sells, but it seems to me that it’s not a very elegant way to sell a product. For me, the elegant thing is to let the film speak for itself.
People who worked on the film are very passionate about expressing their opinions and, when they did, they took away my work. I offered the film to several actors. The reason I hadn’t thought of Jim Caviezel is because he’s tall with dark hair, and Tim [Ballard] is blonde and not that tall. One day, Tim told me that he hadn’t been asked about who he’d like to have play him on screen. He told me that he wanted Jim.
A. He told me that Jim was a man of faith. Think about how, when agents find child pornography and take it to court, they can’t play it, because it becomes a crime. So, Tim’s job was to watch the videos and describe them step-by-step. And that broke his soul. That’s why most people who work on crimes against children last only one or two years, because psychologically, it destroys you. And Tim told me that the only way he could survive that was through his faith.
Q. How was your first meeting with Jim Caviezel?
A. The first thing I saw was that he had a shaggy head and a very long, black beard. We started talking, and I noticed that his eyes began to fill with tears — he told me that he’s the father of three adopted children and knows the pain that children and victims suffer from. I realized that this was a very personal matter for him. My second question was: can you shave, and can I dye your hair blonde?
Q. Do you think that Sound of Freedom was a victim of the so-called “culture war” in the U.S.?
A. 100%. It’s a reflection of what we’re experiencing today, a mirage of how separated we are. I’ve been in this country (the United States) for 25 years. I really like poker and, as a Mexican, socializing. I invite friends of all kinds, of all ideologies, to my house. At first, there wasn’t a problem. But now, try to have two people who see things differently — politically speaking — at the same table. You can’t do it, even if you open a 1978 Chateau Lafite. I have friends who are brothers and who have stopped talking to each other. It’s a very marked division. Tribal. We believe that our opinion is important. It’s a big lie, one of the biggest in the world. It’s only important if you’re a politician. If you’re not in the political environment, you can be shouting and shouting whatever you want. Your vote will move things, but your opinion will not.
Q. Isn’t this a political movie?
A. No. They made it political. That hurts a lot: that the film has been a victim, in a certain way. That it has fallen into that world. That’s why I went out [to speak]. I have to be loyal to my calling, which is art. When I see that they take a work of art and [make it something that it’s not], I say, wait, it’s a movie.
Federico Fellini said that a director’s job is to break prejudice. I always thought he meant when you’re making a movie — not afterward. Now, after it’s done, you have to continue breaking prejudices.
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