By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff Writer– Ridgecrest Cinemas is in the business of bringing stories to our community. Lots of stories. Some they bring are sad, while others are funny or maybe scary. But the best stories they bring are well told and true. One of these good stories is the recently released movie Sound of Freedom. Appropriate to its title, this film was unveiled in Ridgecrest the week of the Fourth of July holiday. But the liberty addressed in this movie is not about the 27 colonial grievances against King George III. Instead, it deals with a more contemporary issue: human trafficking. This horrific but prevalent crime steals a person’s natural, inalienable rights. And when children who were robbed of these rights finally get them back, a special sound is made: the sound of freedom.
But this movie took a strange journey to this summer’s box office. The theater’s general manager, Kelly Walden, said this movie, which topped all seven, was actually made five years ago, in 2018. Disney originally owned its rights but had no plans to release it. So a small company, Angel Studios, Inc., purchased the rights and tried to show it through Netflix and Amazon, but both refused. So, the studio, known for its Chosen series, decided to pre-sell tickets to the film’s supporters. Finally, on July 4th, Angel Studios released the movie in 2600 theaters with a mere $15 million budget. That same week, Disney released Indiana Jones in 4600 theaters, with a whopping $294.7 million budget. The Sound of Freedom grossed $3 million more than Disney’s big-budget film in quiet justice. Walden reported that the movie’s second week did even better, taking over second place nationally, with an unheard-of 37% increase in sales. (Because of popular demand, 3,265 theaters are now showing the movie).
This story is about one man’s journey to save “God’s children” because “they are not for sale.” Everything about this film is done in an engaging and tasteful manner. Tim Ballard, played by actor Jim Caviezel, works as an agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Day after day, he is charged with the agonizing job of tracking and entrapping pedophiles. A father of six children, he is forced to witness other children of similar ages being trafficked and abused. Even though it is fulfilling to lock these abusers behind bars, he needs to do more. Only a small percentage of these offenders are stopped, and they are soon replaced by others, but the children are still out there, living lives with little hope. He wants to “put the pieces back together” by finding the children and reuniting them with their grieving parents, or at least getting them to safety. The film is a little over 2 hours long, and during the credits, Caviezel addresses the theater audience. He says he and the other filmmakers hope The Sound of Freedom will be the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of 21st-century slavery.” During this short plea, he does not ask for money but requests that people encourage others to see the movie. He believes this movie “has the power to be a huge step forward toward ending child trafficking.” For some local residents, watching this movie was a long-anticipated treat because they had been waiting many years to see it. Some even helped to hasten its release. For instance, Lynn Riddick, who watched it with her husband, Jon, said Angel Studios had notified them by email inviting their help. She said, “They wanted 2 million people to see the movie to represent the 2 million children currently being trafficked.” So, the Riddicks did their part to “spread the word.” This values-based studio uses a unique “Pay it Forward” system in order to give free access to would-be watchers who cannot afford it. Riddick said, “I was so happy when I found out that the movie would be making it to Ridgecrest.’
Tara Packer, founder of The Lighthouse Ridgecrest, also watched the movie. Her focus, however, was not so much on the movie as on the audience’s reaction to it. Because she experienced sexual abuse as a young girl, she empathizes with the victims and even the abusers. She said she was in her own prison for 27 years, battling addictions and pain. But “because of my realization of God’s love for me, I was able to move forward and love others, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.” She said, “As I watched this movie, I felt great emotion for the ones being abused and the abusers” that might be in the audience. Packer said she began praying for both groups because “this is not where you were ever meant to be or live.” She said The Lighthouse offers prayer to anyone who needs help. It is located at 111 Balsam Street. The number is 760-793-4527.
For anyone who wants to get involved, there are tangible actions to help in this effort. For instance, the Kern County Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Unit offers informative presentations free of charge to community groups in Ridgecrest. Kern Sheriff’s Public Information Officer, Lori Meza, stated, “There are many different types of human trafficking going on in this country besides sex.” Other types she listed include domestic servitude, labor trafficking, and even organ harvesting. She explained that “it looks different in every situation.” For instance, victims are not always attained by random strangers. They can be trafficked by friends and family members also. Meza said, “In many cases, victims are lured by false promises that prey on their needs and weaknesses.” All ages and genders can be victims. She said her department’s goal is “to educate our community and raise awareness.” Anyone in the service area of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office can request the presentations they offer to groups of ten or more. The subjects offered are human trafficking, crime prevention, personal safety, and situational awareness. The lectures last about 45 minutes, and the Crime Prevention Unit needs about 6-8 weeks’ notice. Call the Crime Prevention Unit at 661-391-7559 or email them at to schedule.
A resource for human trafficking victims is the non-profit organization, Breaking the Chains (BTC), located near Fresno. BTC offers long-term housing in their facilities or in designated “safe houses.” To help victims, both male and female, who are at least 12 years old, BTC offers counseling, life skills workshops, education and job training, and legal advocacy. The organization has 12 paid staff members and an “army of volunteers.” Founder, CEO, and trafficking survivor Debra Rush says on her website that BTC offers “trauma-informed services regularly to a daily average of 75 survivors and their families.” In the event there is a need to seek help for a human trafficking victim, there is a National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is 888-373-7888. The operator will refer the caller to the closest place for help. Jessica Lopez, who serves as the Non-residential Case Coordinator and Victim Advocate, said that even though Ridgecrest is not close to Fresno, “we still could be the closest place.” Besides the hotline, people can also call BTC directly at 888-858-2021 or visit their website, www.btcfresno.org.
For those who have not seen the movie and enjoy watching it in a theater, Walden estimates this movie will continue to show at the Ridgecrest Cinema through the end of July. She said all movies are “gross-driven,” and as long as there is interest and demand, the movie will be offered a little while longer. Free tickets are available through the Angel Studios website. The dates and times can be found at www.ridgecrestcinemas.com. The theater is located at 1631 N. Triangle Drive.