‘Sound of Freedom’ director Alejandro Monteverde addresses controversies: ‘Breaks my heart’

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For “Sound of Freedom” writer and director Alejandro Monteverde, it is the best of times in the most disruptive of times.

His $14.5 million independent film that languished for four years without distribution has turned into the surprise hit of summer: The movie has raked in $173 million at the North American box office since July 4, improbably ahead of Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible − Dead Reckoning Part One” ($160 million).

Yet the thriller, which is based on a true story and features “The Passion of the Christ” star Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, who went from U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent to anti-child sex trafficking crusader, has become a lightning rod for criticism and a contentious political football.

“The movie has become a circus on the political spectrum,” says Monteverde.

As “Sound of Freedom” continues its stunning theatrical run in more than 2,800 theaters, the Mexican film director, whose 2006 film “Bella” won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto Film Festival, is addressing the controversies swirling around his movie.

“It breaks my heart that this movie is − in any way, shape or form − part of a controversy. It shouldn’t be,” says Monteverde, who is married to model and actress Ali Landry.

Here’s why ‘Sound of Freedom’ was delayed

The director was inspired to make a fictional film about child sex trafficking after watching a life-changing TV story on the topic eight years ago in a very different political climate. “It was like I had found my calling,” he says.

Monteverde’s plans for the fictional thriller changed when he was introduced to Ballard. The former Homeland Security agent and his non-profit Operation Underground Railroad had been featured in a 2014 laudatory CBS News story about Operation Triple Take, a joint operation with the Colombian government that reportedly rescued 123 trafficked people, including 55 children.

“His story surpassed the fiction I was writing,” says Monteverde of Ballard. With co-writer Rod Barr, Monteverde spent two years co-writing the screenplay “which took creative liberties” with Ballard’s story. The final script focused on Caviezel’s God-fearing character quitting his Homeland Security job to rescue a young girl named Rocío (Cristal Aparicio), who had been abducted for sex trafficking.

New controversy for ‘Sound of Freedom’: Film funder charged with accessory to child kidnapping

“Sound of Freedom” was shot in 2018 for 21st Century Fox, but was shelved when Disney acquired the studio in 2019.

“My movie got lost in limbo,” says Monteverde of the delay. “Then COVID hit and people keep telling me, ‘Who wants to see a movie with this heaviness? People want to see happy films.’ I literally thought ‘Sound of Freedom’ would never come out.”

Then Provo, Utah–based Angel Studios (creators of TV’s “The Chosen”) stepped in, raising $5 million in crowd-funding to acquire the rights and distribute the film.

One of the thousands who contributed was part of the latest “Sound of Freedom” controversy. Fabian Marta, 51, was charged on July 21 with accessory to child kidnapping, according to the Missouri Courts website.

“This was crowd-funding where people could give $10 to a max of $500 and there were like 7,000 people, I never knew (Marta) or even know what this case was about. It’s like he owned Tesla or Apple stock,” says Monteverde. “This has nothing to do with the film itself.”

‘Sound of Freedom’ does not contain political messages or debunked QAnon conspiracy theories

While “Sound of Freedom” remained on hold, QAnon conspiracy theories became more mainstream, perpetrating false belief in the existence of a secret sex-trafficking ring run by Hollywood elite and Democratic politicians.

None of QAnon’s debunked claims are alluded to in “Sound of Freedom,” but QAnon proponents have extolled the movie. Monteverde refuses to mention QAnon by name when saying the conspiracy theories are not part of his film.

“The first time I heard any conspiracy theories like this was a year-and-a-half ago. I was like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ ” says Monteverde. “I never thought in a million years that these two worlds would come together because that has nothing to do with our movie.”

New ‘Passion of the Christ’: It will be ‘the biggest film in history,’ Jim Caviezel promises

During a podcast with Steve Bannon to promote “Sound of Freedom,” Caviezel discussed “adrenochrome,” a hormone that QAnon adherents say global elites harvest from child victims as an allegedly life-extending elixir.

“What interviews people give, that is outside of my control,” says Monteverde.

The filmmaker says he doesn’t understand why the film has been embraced by American conservatives and makes liberals leery.

“I personally take my distance from anything political,” says Monteverde, who has turned down all political events, including a private screening invitation from former President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago home. “Politics in these times divides.”

Tim Ballard’s work has undergone scrutiny, criticism

Media sites such as Vice News have railed against Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad, questioning the group’s child-rescuing accomplishments, claiming the deeds were embellished or exaggerated. Ballard, who advised Trump on child trafficking issues, has left the organization, according to Vice.

Monteverde stands by his film, making it clear there are fictional elements to “Sound of Freedom.”

“When you make a movie, it’s going to be bigger than life,” he says. “But I’ve seen footage of the Colombia raid. There were cameras everywhere. That raid happened. What happened after that, I don’t know. Let’s talk about the movie itself.

“But I admire Tim Ballard,” Monteverde adds. “I don’t know many people who do what he does.”

The child abduction message of ‘Sound of Freedom’ has been criticized

Critics and advocates working to stop human trafficking have argued the way “Sound of Freedom” depicts child abduction and aggressive rescue tactics are misleading since most child victims know and trust their traffickers. 

Monteverde says he is showing one story.

“My movie is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “This movie was just an origin story about trying to find one girl. I wish I’d had more time to maybe make a (film) series to talk about all the facts.”

He says the movie is directing the spotlight on something everyone can agree on − stopping child trafficking − and hopes the debate can spark needed conversation and action.

The surprise success of summer: Why ‘Sound of Freedom,’ Jim Caviezel’s controversial trafficking film, is a hit

“We should see this division (of views) as an asset, not as a divisive thing. Maybe if we survive this conversation we can come together,” says Monteverde. “My goal with this movie was to create awareness on the subject matter and we’ve been successful. Many people are talking about it.”

Meanwhile “Sound of Freedom” is beginning to roll out internationally, opening in South Africa (Aug. 18), Australia/New Zealand (Aug. 24) and Mexico (Aug. 31) ahead of other major territories.

“No one expected that this film would make close to $200 million in box office and that it was going to have this reaction, well outside of any political label or conspiracy group,” says Monteverde. “The majority of the box office connects with the film on a very profound level, because it speaks a lot about hope. And that resonates in our lives.”

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