YouTube's thriller-documentary 'The Price of Free' by Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim is a must-watch
The film follows Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and his team through gripping secret raids and quests for missing children in the hopes of ending the cycle of poverty
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, 'The Price Of Free' (formerly titled 'Kailash') is a suspenseful yet intimate look at one man’s groundbreaking struggle to liberate every child possible from slavery. From director Derek Doneen and Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala), the film follows Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and his team through gripping secret raids and quests for missing children in the hopes of ending the cycle of poverty which forces them and their families into dreadful circumstances.
Refusing to be daunted by the impossible, they succeeded in rescuing over 87,000 children and created a global movement which has resulted in legislation which helps protect children. YouTube Originals released the film on November 2 in New York and will release it on November 9 in Los Angeles, before its launch on the platform on November 27. Gripping as it is, the film is also the story of spirited children who, released from a nightmare, latch onto a second chance for joy with all they’ve got. It is the kids Satyarthi rescues who prove the absolute necessity of what he does: giving hope to the world one child at a time.
“We were determined to bring audiences the remarkable story of Kailash but also to make a dramatic film that might engage and move audiences in a personal way. That’s why it was so important to us to explore themes of courage and action, themes of making the seemingly impossible practical and the theme of childhood in all its potential. We hope people will connect on a human level to Kailash and to these resilient kids who represent all who deserve the right to play, go to school and be free. Change begins when you make that kind of connection,” Doneen said.
'The Price of Free' is decidedly not a biopic. It’s a portrait, one that plays almost like a thriller that tracks the rare trajectory of a man of action who believes complacency is not an option. And it’s a chance to get to know the forgotten children whose lives he has turned around in his fearlessness. But still, a driving force of the film’s heart is Satyarthi's persona — his gentle yet fierce charisma and his beautiful, bold idea that we all have within us the power to 100% insist on a more caring world.
Born in central India as the son of a police officer, from a young age Satyarthi could not abide by the injustice he saw around him, especially when he learned there are children who believe they are “born to work.” He wanted all kids to be free to dream of more. So as a child he raised money to pay the school fees of classmates and organized book banks for those who couldn’t afford textbooks. The lesson he took from these early acts was clear: when anger fuels focused and direct action you can see the transformative impact on real lives.
In 2014, when Satyarthi accepted the Nobel Peace Prize along with co-recipient Malala Yousafzai, Oscar-winning filmmaker Guggenheim was already in attendance with a camera crew for his feature documentary 'He Named Me Malala.' At the time, Guggenheim didn’t know much about Satyarthi — and that bothered him. Why was this man who had accomplished so much against the odds flying under the global radar?
“I was immediately taken by this seemingly quiet and distinguished man,” recalled Guggenheim. “Then I started to read about him and I couldn’t believe he and his team personally liberated more than 80,000 child slaves and he was the architect of a great movement. I loved that the world had now brought together this teenage Muslim girl and Hindu man decades apart, each living different lives in different worlds, but connected by a singular passion to change the world.” Guggenheim decided right then, another film had to be set in motion about Satyarthi's life work.
Guggenheim found an enthusiastic collaborator in Doneen, who said: “Kailash’s life was so amazing. But I was excited not only by the chance to tell his story but also about the potential to tell the bigger story of the human cost of cheap goods in a way that would be riveting and personal.” About the rewarding experience, Doneen added, “I loved seeing the pure, delicate beauty of them relearning how to be kids. It’s such a contrast with the tension and danger of the rescues. Through their very real experiences, I felt we could add something that is emotionally thrilling, and that also conveys Kailash’s message that there is an urgency for us all to act now because children’s lives are at stake when we buy goods, even unknowingly, that they make.”
The history of cinema is full of epic chase sequences that seem unpredictable but are actually scripted down to the minuscule details. This was definitely not the case shooting the early dawn raids that Satyarthi's movement Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) undertakes on factories, brick kilns and quarries known to be exploiting children. The film crew had to prepare for one of the starkest realities of direct action: the effects can be breathtaking but the danger is real. A good outcome is never assured. Sometimes armed guards surround the factories. Sometimes the owners are in cahoots with local police. And sometimes the terrified kids within flee in fear from those trying to rescue them.
It is gritty, gutsy work carried out in a necessary hush of secrecy, but Doneen was committed to capturing all the jeopardy and all the emotion in a way few have ever seen on screen. The only way to do it was with meticulous preparation — but to also be ready for anything. “The raids are extremely chaotic and no matter what you do, they will always be unpredictable,” noted Doneen. “But going in as prepared as we possibly could be allowed us to keep our focus and point the camera at exactly what we were looking for. We had a plan and were focused on what we needed to shoot while remaining open and aware to the unfolding story around us.”
The raids themselves are intricately planned, according to a methodology BBA has found most effective. Once a factory is identified — in some cases by parents trying to recover a child, in others by BBA’s research or witnesses reporting underage laborers — the area is monitored and explored for a period of days. Local labor officials and lawyers are recruited to be at the ready, all under careful secrecy so as not to tip off the employers. And then, on the day of the raid, the linchpin of it all is speed. The faster it all comes off, the safer for the children and the activists.
Embracing the frenzied speed was vital to the filmmaking. “You had to kind of run head first into it, but at the same time be thinking of the bigger story we were trying to tell,” said Doneen. From the dim, perilous factories, the film bursts into the light as it enters Mukti and Bal Ashrams, lined with classrooms and ringing with children’s laughter. Here, transformative work takes place, as kids once held back suddenly, exuberantly realize they can alter their fates.
Without the rehab centers, many of the rescued would likely find themselves soon returning to work. But Satyarthi instead assures that they will receive the care and counseling that can start them down the path of believing in something more. As the kids begin to heal and to enjoy the schooling they’ve missed, their natural hunger for life comes roaring back in all its colors.
That soaring process is what Doneen catches with the camera. “The transformation that Derek captured in the children rescued from slavery is nothing less than magic,” said Guggenheim. “My dream is that people will see these children as we would see our own children—with the same hopes and dreams and the same potential. It is a simple thing, but it could change the world.”
Although you may find yourself reaching for tissues, don't miss the incredible thriller-documentary.