Sound of Freedom Review — A Clarion Call for Change
Is Sound of Freedom, a culture defining, genre bending action-thriller in the vein of Se7en or Heat, not quite, but what it strives to do--- reveal to viewers the grotesque inhumanity of child sex trafficking and raise awareness (and perhaps spur action towards combating) of the dreadful issue, it does so effectively with subdued, realistic performances, and a murky cinematic palette that bestows each scene with an ominous, desperation-fueled vibe. The film does a convincing job of showcasing the seediest underbelly of our society, a trade plied in homes, on the streets, in schools, within the ranks of both the lowest and highest rungs of citizenry. It is a crime of sheer depravity and the fastest growing crime network in the modern world.
Sound of Freedom is directed with commendable restraint by Alejandro Monteverde--- he doesn't rely on flashy action scenes or meat-headed bravado to portray Ballard's heroics or heighten the extreme emotional stakes. The film reaching theaters is a miracle within itself, created in 2018 and shelved once Disney acquired its studio, 20th Century Fox, in 2019. Acquired by Christian backed Angel Studios in 2023, it somehow arrived five years later to garner a provocative mix of fervent praise for its powerful message, widespread criticism as to the veracity of Ballard's exploits, and public curiosity regarding a film that is now the highest grossing independent movie since theaters reopened in 2021.
The film wastes no time showing viewers the stomach-turning simplicity and ubiquity of these crimes. The opening credits are interspersed with surveillance footage of actual child abductions, a disheartening reminder of how quickly these crimes can occur, even in the public under watchful eyes. A single father living in Honduras is convinced by a local beauty queen, Katy-Gisselle (Yessica Borroto Perryman), to allow his two children, 11-year-old Rocio (Cristal Aparicio) and her younger brother, 7-year-old Miguel (Lucás Èvila) to audition for a local musical competition show. He arrives at a dingy, dimly lit motel room and is told at the door that parents are not permitted to view the talent and to return when the audition concludes. He returns to discover the purported studio empty and abandoned, and his children abducted, a gut-wrenching realization for any parent.
Based loosely on events in the life of Tim Ballard (played by a steely eyed and contemplative Jim Caviezel), a former agent with the Department of Homeland Security who has helped capture over 300 pedophiles and left the organization amid grievances with the lack of efforts employed to rescue kidnapped and trafficked children in underdeveloped nations to found Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit, anti- sex trafficking organization, in 2013. Following the horrifying opener, the film tracks Ballard's investigation and arrest of a stateside pedophile responsible for uploading millions of images of child pornography to buyers from across the globe.
He cozies up to the captured pedophile, intimating that he harbors similar proclivities and learns of a trafficking ring in Mexico. He manages to dismantle the operation at the border, nab the trafficker, and save the boy from the opening scene, but is haunted by his failure to find the sister and free her from cruel clutches of her captors.
His globe-trotting mission eventually takes him to the lush, foreboding jungles of Colombia where child trafficking is enmeshed with the narcotics trade. Given a week and $10,000 by his boss, he teams up with former miscreant, Vampiro (character actor extraordinaire Bill Camp in fine form, sleaziness personified), to concoct an elaborate sting operation that enables him to rescue the child he's looking for and free countless others from a wretched existence.
The film doesn't delve too deeply into the family dynamics of the Ballard family or emotional trauma caused by their profession, but watching a pained exchange between Ballard and his fellow agent discuss the one-sided nature of their job, the atrocity of these crimes, and the photo/video evidence the forever stamps itself in their minds--- speaks volumes to anyone who didn't realize the dismal toll it takes on the people tasked with catching the soulless predators facilitating this taboo industry.
Politics notwithstanding--- and politics have contributed immensely to Sound of Freedom's blockbuster box office numbers (beating out the latest Indiana Jones movie in opening sales). Since being adopted by the right as a conservative thriller, the film has become somewhat of a rallying cry for Q-Anon enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists. Sound of Freedom operates on a simple premise--- child trafficking is a universal scourge that has infiltrated every level of society and as a good-hearted, God- fearing populace, we have a critical responsibility to care about their horrific plights and take action to end this inhumane practice.
Sound of Freedom is an impassioned and capable if formulaic summer success that tugs at our instinctual drive to protect children. While it doesn't excel or innovate in the narrative department, captivate viewers with grounded and relatable characters, or elevate its sordid themes beyond conveying Christian conviction (3Gods children are not for sale ́ and 3When God tells you what to do, you cannot hesitate ́) and exposing the abject awfulness of the content, the crosshair focus on subject matter must be applauded. It's rare that an issue so insidious and dehumanizing is presented through the medium of an earnest action thriller. With an arresting and unshakable missive, Sound of Freedom may do more than shine a light on the darkest aspects of human behavior and perhaps, inspire us to join the fight to eliminate child trafficking.
EWTN Interviews Liony Batista and reports on the work of Nueva Alegria in the Dominican Republic
Liony Batista, Executive Director of Nueva Alegria, was recently interviewed by Global Catholic Television Network, EWTN.
Here he explains the programs, services and vocational opportunities that have been created and extended to the youth in the Dominican Republic’s bateys, in partnership with Cross Catholic Outreach.
A Dominican to the Tambora
By: Ana Vargas
Nowadays I often ask myself what it means to be Dominican. Beyond the sense of belonging that family life generates and the indelible ties to the environment where you spent your formative years, being Dominican is about been cheerful and complaisant. Dominicans are renowned worldwide for their effusive charm and generosity--- we always aim to please and to make others feel celebrated--- like a newly discovered member of the family. A true-blooded Dominican never expects a no for an answer, for they view everything, from casual outings and opportunities to personal misfortune, with the end result in mind. Esteban embodied this to the fullest because he was not interested in pronouncing the word no, believed it would be impolite to say so, for as a true Dominican his eyes are fixated on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Estebancito was a joyful young man who endeavored to please others, to be there for those who needed him most, and to make anyone with low spirits feel good. He was a faithful son, an endearing sibling, and a loyal friend who could always be counted upon. During his brief time on Earth, he connected with countless people and became embedded in their lives, forging beautiful memories and friendships, which I and many others will cherish forever.
Esteban was a person who viewed life as an exciting mystery, a winding path full of opportunities and potential joys. To Esteban, there was no occasion that did not deserve to be celebrated or a date that did not have an explicit meaning to foster some form of pomp and circumstance around.
La Pampara sigue... one of his favorite phrases, which was his way of saying, I am doing what I want to do and I am exactly where I want to be.
Esteban valued being Dominican above nearly and harbored a profound love for the country, its customs, traditions, and its people. He witnessed the innumerable hardships Dominicans faced and sought practical solutions to their onerous struggles. He resolved to sponsor young people that displayed the determination to overcome their circumstances, children who cherished learning but did not have the financial means to pay for their studies or to even enroll in a simple course.
This infectious passion and dedication enabled him to win the hearts of many young people in the community of Haina, who today can take courses to and learn a trade at the Esteban Almonte Youth Center. Esteban made it a personal mission to improve the quality of life for these young people and empower them to help their families and respective communities. That is the essence of being Dominican. Yes, being Dominican means to seek out a life of passion, dedication, and solidarity, that's what a Dominican strives to communicate through each strike of the tambora.
So Esteban, wherever you are, whatever challenges you now face, you will see your dreams come true because you deserve it, as do all the people who knew you and saw in you a noble, free and happy soul. This is how we choose to remember you.
Friends of Hope International Blog – Preserving Legacies
As the one-year anniversary of my brother’s tragic and unexpected passing approaches and the poignant moments we shared still flood my thoughts, I’ve dealt with an onslaught of painful realizations--- that I’ll never receive another early morning, “que lo que” check-in from my brother, hear him wax poetic on the incomparable merits of being Dominican, share a spirited conversation on the superiority of DC comics over Marvel, or celebrate any further life milestones together. It’s the ultimate proof that another day is not promised its painfully inexplicable, heartbreakingly unfair and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
As the grief and regret subsides and I begin to field correspondence from other people who knew Esteban, I’ve discovered a different side of the lovable, outspoken joker I grew up with--- a man who harbored deep, driving passions to improve his ancestral homeland, the Dominican Republic, and to share with others the magical allure it held over him throughout his life. I learned of his herculean efforts build Friends of Hope International into a respected and reputable organization and the immense impact he had in the lives of so many people throughout the world. He saw himself in the people he served and worked tirelessly to embody and the values of the non-profit he created.
My brother was a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm. He often reminisced of visiting the Dominican Republic as a child and the indelible experiences these trips seared into his brain. He possessed an uncanny ability to emphasize and relate with anyone regardless of their race, faith, creed, or culture. While there is no way to replace his unmatched presence, I plan to uphold and honor his legacy by keeping you informed of Friends of Hope International, and the wonderful work we are doing throughout Central America and the Dominican Republic.
About the Author:
As for me, my name is Daniel Fernandez, and I am the proud son of Dominican immigrants, who came to United States and committed themselves to a life of public service. They instilled in us a similar set of principles: to take pride in anything we do, to champion hard work and discipline as the true formula for success, to never take anything for granted, and to always consider and assist the less fortunate.
Like my brother, our summer jaunts to the Moca and Cabrera in the Dominican Republic played a massive role in shaping my core values and personal ambitions. Seeing my close relatives struggle amid abject poverty motivated me to pursue a career as a public servant.
As a former Outreach Specialist for SAGA/AmeriCorps, I mentored indigenous Alaskan youth from the remote island of Little Diomede and worked with them on various environmental projects to help restore the natural beauty of the Last Frontier state. As an educator who served as a Self-Contained Special Education teacher, middle school Language Arts Teacher, SEI instructor, and coach, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of helping children discover their passion for learning and to find opportunities that can empower them to acquire the life they’ve envisioned for themselves.
I plan on utilizing my experience and this incredible platform to shed light on the myriad of issues plaguing education and celebrate the exceptional people who are working to remedy these problems, and who plan on using their education to conquer the problems impacting their respective communities.
I’ve decided to revive this blog to reconnect with the people we serve and the invaluable partners who’ve along the way on our mission to empower others to overcome hardship. This blog will keep you abreast of our work across Central America and the Caribbean, spotlight the various communities we serve and the organizations and volunteers who help us make lasting, positive change possible.
In the coming weeks, I will profile and interview our recent scholarship recipients, showcase our current programs at the Esteban Almonte Youth Center, and cover our disaster relief efforts in response to hurricane Fiona.
Warmest Regards, Daniel Fernandez
"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."
Feeding the Poor
In a world that wastes billions of pounds of food each year, it's almost shocking that anyone on earth goes hungry. Yet every day, there are millions of children and adults who do not get the meals they need to thrive. We work to get nourishing food – from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers – to people in need. At the same time, we also seek to help the people we serve to build a path to a brighter, food-secure future.
For more than 10 years, Friends of Hope has responded to the needs of individuals struggling with food insecurity around the globe. In times of uncertainty, we have not wavered from our mission to end the fight against hunger.
One of our missions is to prevent human trafficking through youth education, awareness-raising, and advocacy. Our approach is to focus on education by encouraging youth voices to share what they learn, be aware of what this illicit trade is all about, and generate an “echo” worldwide. Youth education is where the prevention of human trafficking begins and this is at the core of all our work. Our activities include:
· Raising awareness about human trafficking in a manner that the youth can understand, and investing in programs that sensitize and benefit the youth and people of all ages.
· Promoting youth initiatives and activities that contribute to combating human trafficking.
· Engaging the youth in developing activities, discussions and tools that contribute to combating human trafficking.
· Acknowledging and communicating worldwide, positive youth initiatives that contribute to combating human trafficking.
We carry out these activities by organizing youth events and linking them with the relevant associations — organizing youth conferences, closed workshops, and public events.