Trying to Start Something
As a teenager, Justin Dillon attended a U2 concert and was forever changed. Seriously.
He immediately decided that he was going to be a musician and, as he puts it, "to be a better person because of the art I had just experienced." And he started to ask himself, "How do we use music and art to make the world a better place?"
Dillon has been trying to answer that question ever since. And when he first learned, several years ago, about the devastating problem of human trafficking around the world, he quickly learned all he could about the topic and fully immersed himself into finding ways to make a difference.
That journey ultimately led Dillon—a professional musician but not a filmmaker—to make a movie, Call + Response, which releases in limited cities this week. The "rockumentary" is both a concert featuring well-known artists (including Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, and Switchfoot, and many others, all performing gratis) as well as interviews with celebrities (Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd), politicians (Madeline Albright), sociologists, journalists, and activists.
Call + Response is educational too; viewers who are unaware of the scope of the modern-day slave trade (an estimated 27 million in bondage, including many children in forced prostitution) will get a primer on the problem. But Dillon's desire is to do more than inform; he wants viewers to act—thus the second half of the film's title—and has set up the official website so people can leave comments, make donations, and more. All of the film's proceeds will go to organizations and ministries that are fighting slavery.
We caught up with director Dillon to discuss his passion and his movie.
Even before your epiphany at that U2 concert, was there anything in your upbringing that might've wired you to be so passionate about this?
Dillon: I grew up in a church, but when I turned 16, right about the time I discovered music, I decided that formal religion wasn't what touched me spiritually. Music touched me spiritually. And a band like U2 bridged the gap between rock'n'roll and the world. I think justice is an inherent tenet inside the faith I grew up in, and it's also an inherent tenet inside of what I think is the most beautiful of art. And reading some books by Os Guinness and others kind of cemented this idea that somehow you can do all three—be an artist, seek justice, and pursue a life of spirituality.
You started connecting art and justice in your band Tremolo a few years ago, giving away 50 percent of your record's proceeds to charities of fans' choice.
Dillon: Yeah. It's based off the concept of how do we take an experience from a song, or the purchase of a record, and expand those ideas out to where it leverages something beautiful and produces justice or mercy? It was like, "What if we live what we value?" Or, "What if we actually acted out what the songs are saying?"
In 2003, you went on a music tour of Russia, which also opened your eyes to human trafficking. And you met a girl—your translator—who was integral to this story?
Dillon: Yes, but let me back up a bit. About three months before I went to Russia, I read an article in The New York Times called "The Girls Next Door." It was the first exposure I ever had to human trafficking. That article really affected me. In Russia, some girls—all university students—were translating for us. They kept talking about these "exciting job opportunities" in the U.S., and I was like, This sounds really familiar to that article.