Unscripted

Matthew Heineman takes on opioid epidemic in “The Trade”

Doc director Matthew Heineman is revisiting the topics tackled in his 2015 Academy Award-nominated doc Cartel Land in a series for Showtime. The Trade, which premieres tonight (Feb. 2) at 9 ...
February 2, 2018

Doc director Matthew Heineman is revisiting the topics tackled in his 2015 Academy Award-nominated doc Cartel Land in a series for Showtime.

The Trade, which premieres tonight (Feb. 2) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, is a five-part series examining the heroin epidemic and drug trade in the U.S.

“There were so many different sides to it, and with Showtime, I was really excited about highlighting all the different facets of the war on drugs and the lives affected by it,” Heineman told realscreen while on┬áset in London, where he is filming his first narrative feature. “In my style of filmmaking, I like to put a human face to an issue — I hopefully can give a good understanding of what’s happening not through stats, or graphs, or talking head interviews, but through human stories.”

Subjects featured in The Trade include addicts and their families in Atlanta, drug lords and poppy-seed farmers in Mexico, and narcotics units and dealers in Columbus.

While The Trade may explore similar themes to Cartel Land Heineman had to adjust his approach to direct a series rather than a feature doc, and in order to cover such a large number of subjects.

Heineman, who takes pride in his ability to embed himself in areas for other docs, had to assemble different production groups staffed with people he’d collaborated with in the past.

“It was shot over many, many months in multiple locations in Mexico and the U.S., and just gathering the team was a much different process than what I’d done before,” he explains. “Normally I’m much more self-sufficient and on the ground, but by the nature of the beast of how much we were covering, we had multiple teams filming at once in different places.”

The series bowed at the Sundance Film Festival last week, where two episodes aired. Heineman is something of a Sundance veteran — Cartel Land world premiered at the festival in 2015, while his most recent feature doc, City of Ghosts, debuted just last year.

The three projects — Cartel Land, City of Ghosts and now, The Trade — don’t deal with light material. While Cartel Land and The Trade focus on opioid addiction, City of Ghosts documents the atrocities committed by ISIS in Syria. They’re heavy topics for Heineman to devote years to, but the young director doesn’t show signs of slowing. He says he feels an honor to tell these people’s stories, and it’s a responsibility he takes seriously.

“These are huge, deep long commitments that take a toll on you,” he says. “I hope to keep telling stories that I hope will light up dark corners of the world.”

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.

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