A controversial new drama eight years in the making has become a surprise hit at the box office.
On Independence Day (4 July) in the US, a brand new movie starring The Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel was released – and made enough money to place third behind high-profile releases including sequels Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Impressively, it managed this feat while being released in half the number of screens as the new Indiana Jones film, which marks Harrison Ford’s final adventure as the popular character.
The film, titled Sound of Freedom, comes from director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde and was shot in 2018, with its release delayed due to Covid. The film came to fruition after distributor Angel Studios launched a crowdfunder in order to earn enough money to market the film.
In just two weeks, the crowdfunder – endorsed by Caviezel’s Passion of the Christ director Mel Gibson – succeeded in amassing the studios’ goal of $5m (£3.8m), which was donated by 7,000 people.
The film is purported to be based on real events, with Caviezel’s character embarking on a mission to rescue children from sex traffickers in Colombia. The lead role is inspired by anti-human trafficking activist Tim Ballard, whose story has been questioned by researchers since 2020.
In the past, Ballard has credited his organisation Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) with saving thousand of trafficking victims.
However, according to American Crime Journal investigative reporters Lynn Packer and Damion Moore, Ballard embellished details about the story depicted in Sound of Freedom.
Caviezel himself has courted controversy in recent years. In 2021, the actor supported certain claims made by the conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
The far-right-supported theory, claimed to be formulated by someone who has seen classified government materials, circulated in 2021, and made baseless claims that devil-worshipping paedophiles were working for the US government.
Ballard has criticised reports claiming the film is tied to QAnon, telling Fox News: “They make zero connection to the actual story. It’s very difficult to make that connection when it’s actually based on a true story.”
In 2020, he also suggested the belief that QAnon shares unfounded theories, telling The New York Times: “Some of these theories have allowed people to open their eyes, so now it’s our job to flood the space with real information so the facts can be shared.”
However, Caviezel didn’t help matters when promoting the film at at a QAnon-affiliated conference in Oklahoma in 2021. While participating, he said Ballard was currently “saving children” from “adrenochroming”, a conspiracy theory that claims traffickers drain children’s blood to harvest a life-enhancing substance called adrenochrome.
When asked to elaborate, Caviezel said: “If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline. These people that do it, there’ll be no mercy for them.” He then appeared to conflate the theory with events in the movie, calling Sound of Freedom “one of the best films I’ve ever done in my life”.
Despite the controversy, Sound of Freedom is attracting a large audience – and has grossed $41.7m (£32.3m) from a budget of just $14.5m (£11.2m).
Brandon Purdie, head of theatrical distribution at Angel Studios, said the figures have “exceeded our expectations”. Angel Studios also denied the notion that the film supports conspiracy theories.
A UK release date is yet to be announced. The film also stars Mira Sorvino and Bill Camp.
Operation Underground Railroad told The Independent: “Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) focuses on the human trafficking problems we know exist and don’t condone theories. We are not affiliated with any conspiracy groups, including QAnon, in any way, shape or form. Accurate information about child exploitation and human trafficking is imperative to effectively confront these issues.
“We are grateful the Sound of Freedom is awakening so many to the plague of human trafficking and exploitation. The movie and message have created a viral discussion across many platforms. We can all agree that protecting children is worth fighting for.”
The Independent has contacted Caviezel for comment.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies