True war against pedophilia. A film that shows how it’s done in America

Almost every mainstream media review includes the words “QAnon” and “Trump,” a clear signal to readers or viewers meant to discredit the credibility and artistic value of the film.

Sound of Freedom conquers America: in just two weeks, this low-budget film has earned $90 million at the box office, and after this weekend, it could reach the magical $100 million mark, despite competing for viewers’ attention with the latest version of Indiana Jones starring Harrison Ford and Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise. All of this is happening despite the mainstream media’s massive criticism.

The movie, starring Jim Caviezel (known for his role as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ), tells the story of a war against traffickers and pimps supplying children to American paedophiles. The film is based on true events and follows the story of Tim Ballard, a federal agent with 12 years of experience in catching deviants. After rescuing 8-year-old Miguel from Honduras from the hands of paedophiles, Ballard leaves his official duties to privately save Miguel’s 11-year-old sister, Rocio, who is forced into sexual slavery in Colombia. Ballard creates the organisation “Operation Underground Railroad,” which has managed to rescue several thousand children and teenagers from pedophilic networks since 2014.

“I have seen ‘Sound of Freedom’ twice, each time with a tight stomach and tears in my eyes. It’s not propaganda, but a very well-made film: although it doesn’t contain explicit scenes, thanks to the director Alejandro Monteverde’s skill, viewers can vividly imagine what awaits these young children. One can easily deduce that by seeing agent Ballard’s reaction when he watches scenes of child pornography for court purposes. Also, the authentic black-and-white footage from industrial cameras capturing the abductions of children from impoverished city streets adds to the truly dramatic atmosphere.

Some dialogues stay with you for a long time, like the confession of a former gangster associate who repented after discovering that the alleged-25-year-old prostitute was actually a fourteen-year-old girl working as a sexual slave since she was six. “I glimpsed into her soul for a moment. There was sadness and darkness. And that darkness was me,” these words emphasise that the trafficking business wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a demand for sex with children. If there weren’t millions of enthusiasts of young “models,” “girls,” or “chicks,” as they are referred to in pedophilic slang.

Another unforgettable quote. “Why do you do this?” is asked of agent Ballard in the film. “Because God’s children are not for sale,” responds the main character. And that statement becomes the key to this film’s message.

In a few minutes-long message played after the end credits, Caviezel emphasises that Sound of Freedom is more than just an ordinary film. The actor recalls what Uncle Tom’s Cabin was for the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. “We believe this film has the power to become a big step towards eradicating the child trafficking industry,” he said, reminding us that in our modern and supposedly progressive times, we have more slaves than in the days when slavery was legal – and at least a few million of them are children.

Every year in the United States, around 460,000 children go missing, while 2 million are being exploited in various ways, primarily sexually. Thousands cross the border from Mexico to serve Americans as sexual toys. The creators of the film, including renowned and award-winning actress Mira Sorvino in a supporting role, emphasise that this is a dramatic problem. It is the fastest-growing segment of crime, worth $150 billion. In the last five years, the number of child pornography films has increased by 5,000 percent. Such a child brings in more profits than drugs. You can sell them to five clients a day and continue like that for 5-10 years, whereas drugs can only be sold once, states the main character.
Frame from the film “Sound of Freedom” (2022). Photo by Image Capital Pictures / Film Stills / Forum
However, for the mainstream media, more important than addressing the issue of modern-day slavery is who is telling the story. In most reviews, alongside the genuine shock that the film performs so well, there are immediate attempts to associate the creators with “far-right” groups and conspiracy theories linked to “QAnon,” which claim that deeply depraved elites conspire against ordinary people. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the film is a “QAnon-tinged thriller about child-trafficking is designed to appeal to the conscience of a conspiracy-addled boomer.” Similar sentiments are echoed by The Washington Post, while The Guardian labels it a “QAnon-adjacent thriller.” Almost every review contains references to Jim Caviezel’s past statements at some conference, admitting his alignment with the QAnon movement.

A true gem is Marc Tracy’s review in The New York Times. I quote excerpts from the third and fourth paragraphs of his text: “‘Sound of Freedom’ is based on a true story: Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent who investigated paedophiles. (Ballard later founded the anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, became a frequent guest on Fox News and was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump to a federal advisory panel on human trafficking.)” And further: “Some critics say the film appeals to the QAnon movement, which posits a false conspiracy theory accusing progressive elites of pedophilia. ”

  And it doesn’t matter that Neal Harmon, head of Angel Studios and the film’s producer, denied such interpretations in one of his interviews: “Anyone who has watched this film knows it is not about conspiracy theories; it is not about politics.”

Almost every mainstream media review includes the words “QAnon” and “Trump,” a clear signal to readers or viewers meant to discredit the film’s credibility and artistic values.

Another way of discrediting or downplaying Sound of Freedom is to consistently label it as a “faith-based film,” an image “inspired by faith.” “We don’t want to be pigeonholed as a religiously inspired film. We are giving people the best possible experiences. But we must send a message not only to the film industry but also to the media and the corrupted world that our children are God’s children and are not for sale,” said James Caviezel.

Sound of Freedom was filmed five years ago. The film was commissioned by the international branch of Fox Studios, but after Disney acquired the studio, it disappeared into a distribution black hole for years. The situation changed when the independent Angel Studios acquired the rights to distribute the film in March of this year. “This film got stuck, couldn’t enter distribution, but in the end, it turned out that the ultimate power lies with the audience,” said studio head Josh Harmon. His company aims to counter the rich Hollywood firms that seem to “control the gateways” to the entire film business.

The film premiered on 4 July 2023, which is the American Independence Day, traditionally considered the best summer moment for movie premieres. On that day, it earned the title of the biggest box office hit. The business plan from March assumed the sale of two million tickets, symbolising the two million exploited children. It wasn’t easy because the film was released on just 2,852 screens, a relatively small scale in the American context. In the film industry, there is no mercy: movies that fail to attract an audience are quickly withdrawn.

However, the audience rushed to see it. The first evening brought in $19.6 million in ticket sales, and after the first week, it reached $45.7 million. It is particularly popular in the “in-between states,” as the more conservative states between liberal California and New York are referred to. Texas, Arizona, Florida, Utah – these states had the most viewers.

“One of the film studio representatives told me that in order for a film to enter the top three in sales after the first week on the screens, you need to spend $11-12 million on promotion,” said Neal Harmon. Angel Studios did not have such money, but they had a business model: they raised $5 million from small investors associated with the company from previous projects, which was needed for promotion (they will receive a portion of any potential profits).

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However, the success was ultimately driven by the grassroots movement of viewers who spread information about the film and showtimes through word-of-mouth. The whispers were amplified by posts on social media platforms, mainly TikTok and Twitter, which had an unexpected effect.

Certainly, the support from celebrities popular among the conservative audience also played a significant role. Besides Jim Caviezel (“it’s the second most important film, after ‘The Passion,’ that I’ve made”), Mel Gibson, and Elon Musk encouraged people to watch the film. Dana White, the creator of the mixed martial arts conference UFC, not only provided free tickets to all of his employees but also appealed to other employers to do the same.

The box office success of Sound of Freedom also serves as an example of what modern technological solutions can achieve. Angel Studios utilised an electronic pay-it-forward ticketing system, initially created for the biblical series Chosen as part of its promotion. The software allows fans to buy tickets for those who cannot afford them. Interested individuals seeking free tickets enter their postal code, and the system locates the nearest theatre showing the film. They then receive a code, and the theatre receives money for a ticket to the chosen screening. Using this method, they managed to buy tickets for 20,000 viewers for His Only Son (a biblical story about Abraham), which cost $250,000 to make but earned $12 million. Between the time Sound of Freedom hit the screens and the time I am writing this, several million dollars worth of tickets have been purchased in this way.

The system works flawlessly; viewers are informed about it during the end credits, and they take advantage of it. As I finish writing this text, Sound of Freedom continues to thrive in theatres, even competing against Tom Cruise’s latest Mission Impossible film, with its massive promotional budget. The number of sold tickets has reached 9 million and continues to grow. This is five times more than the initially targeted goal. Against Hollywood’s expectations, against mainstream media, and despite professional film critics’ opposition, the film-crusade persists on cinema screens for its third week.

– Paweł Burdzy from New York

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: Frame from the film “Sound of Freedom” (2022), with Jim Caviezel on the right. Photo by Image Capital Pictures / Film Stills / Forum
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