2018 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE TRADE

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Matthew Heineman examines America’s opioid epidemic through multiple perspectives in the chain, from growers to law enforcement.

Festival Section:
Special Events

Sundance Program Description:

Transcending headlines to create a nuanced perspective of the heroin epidemic, this five-part Showtime docuseries deftly illuminates the humanity within this modern American crisis. Addicts and their families struggle in Atlanta, drug lords and poppy-seed farmers toil in Mexico, and narcotics units and dealers clash in Columbus. Intimate moments lay bare the physical and emotional grip of dependency, the complicit pain of enabling addiction, the complex roles of law enforcement, and the seemingly unbreakable cycle of supply and demand.

Director Matthew Heineman (CITY OF GHOSTS) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with this powerful, observational take on opioid addiction and the drug trade. Characters are presented without judgment in a riveting, interwoven narrative with superlative access to moments of heartbreak and personal truths. When one mother sobs, “I’m so tired of this; I don’t understand why,” she could be speaking for any person along this pervasive chain.

The Festival is proud to present the first two episodes of this unnerving series, which artfully conveys the scope and gravity of a national epidemic.

Some Background:
Director/Executive Producer:

  • Matthew Heineman
    Past Sundance docs:

    CITY OF GHOSTS (2017)
    CARTEL LAND (2015, US Documentary Directing Award, Special Jury Award for Cinematography)
    ESCAPE FIRE (2012)

    Heineman’s CITY OF GHOSTS has been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. He was previously nominated for CARTEL LAND, which won three Emmys.

Executive Producer/Showrunner:

  • Pagan Harleman

    Harleman has a background in directing and producing series for Animal Planet, CNN, Pivot, and ABC, working for ABC News and Brick City TV, among companies. She previously cut the Sundance narrative short ICE FISHING (2000), but this marks her first producing credit at the festival.


  • Myles Estey
    Past Sundance docs:


    Estey is a journalist who has covered the drug war and politics in Mexico since 2010.

  • Brent Kunkle

    Kunkle previously produced series for Animal Planet, CNN, A&E, and Showtime, as well as the Sundance narrative feature THE COMEDY (2012).

  • Damon Tabor
    Past Sundance docs:

    CARTEL LAND (story consultant)

    Tabor is a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wired, and The New Yorker.



  • Alejandro Suverza

    Suverza is a Mexican journalist who has covered the drug cartels.


  • Daniel Koehler
    Past Sundance docs:

    CITY OF GHOSTS (co-editor)

Associate Editor:

  • Alex Linzmeier

    This is the first Sundance credit for Linzmeier, who has cut series for production companies Warrior Poets and Brick TV.

Why You Should Watch:
Heineman makes great use of long-form, episodic storytelling to weave a wide-ranging tapestry which provides an eye-opening look at various facets of the opioid trade and its devastating consequences.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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