A review of Cocaine Unwrapped

Cocaine’s path from the fields of Bolivia to City desks is a long one with far more violence, destruction, and ruined lives than you’ve probably realised, according to the latest from documentary filmmaker Rachel Seifert, Cocaine Unwrapped.

In examining the devastation the cocaine trade—and more precisely, the international war against it—generates, Cocaine Unwrapped departs from the conventional drugs documentary approach by focusing on the impact on those at the beginning of supply chain: Latin American farmers, communities, and families.

Featuring powerful interviews with everyone from Colombian coca family farmers and imprisoned Ecuadorean drug mules to the President of Bolivia and the U.S. Drug Czar, Seifert dispenses with nuance to drive home the point that the war on drugs and developed countries’ insatiable appetite for cocaine continue to combine to wreak havoc on the day-to-day lives of those on the other side of the globe.

Seifert cleverly illustrates the impact of this international, multi-billion pound war by highlighting the personal stories of individuals impacted by the cocaine trade in five countries – Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, and the U.S.  In one poignant scene, a woman in rural Colombia walks the cameras around the rotting remnants of her formerly thriving fruit farm as she describes the day the aerial coca eradication units sprayed her farm from above, wiping out her livelihood in the process. We also meet a black man imprisoned in Baltimore in the U.S. for 25 years on a relatively small drug charge. In his prison jumpsuit he sadly quips, “you can survive an addiction, but you can’t survive a conviction.”

The film is not all gloom and doom, however. Interviews with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa show that there is a new wave of leadership in Latin America that recognizes the harm of the war on drugs for their citizens and are taking action to reduce it. While the pressure from international conventions and U.S. foreign aid is great, the destruction to many Latin American countries’ economies, communities, and environments has resulted in a critical re-evaluation of anti-cultivation efforts there.

Seifert intersperses the interviews and scenes of devastation with the voices of young Londoners celebrating the carefree way they use coke on a given Saturday night, seemingly oblivious to the graves being dug throughout Latin America as a consequence of wealthy nations’ drug war policies. The film’s message to such drug users is clear: go ahead and use but take responsibility and help end the war on drugs.

Across the globe, everybody in Cocaine Unwrapped agrees the war on drugs is failing and the costs in money and lives continues to grow.

Find out more about the film here.