Sound of Freedom has turned into the little indie film that could, blowing some major franchise releases out of the water at the box office, but whether the smash hit will get its own franchise treatment is still up in the air.
The movie began as a dream project for director Alejandro Monteverde, who told Newsweek he originally wanted to write a movie about the growing child sex trafficking industry worldwide until he came across Tim Ballard. The former Homeland Security Department agent founded Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) to combat child trafficking and has saved hundreds of children.
So Monteverde shifted his focus to Ballard’s “origin story” about “how he left the government, went on his first mission outside the government to Colombia and rescued these children,” he said.
Actor Jim Caviezel portrays Ballard, who handpicked him for the role, and the movie shows the OUR founder risking his life to save children from sex trafficking.
Once he heard about Ballard’s heroic efforts, Monteverde knew he had to rewrite his script to tell his story. This helped fulfill his goal of making movies with a conscience, a dream he’d had since his early days at film school.
“I want to make movies that are cinematic but also have profound meaning,” he said.
Asked if audiences could expect a sequel to Sound of Freedom, Monteverde said that he had written a script about Ballard’s child rescue missions in Haiti and that “there’s some conversations” about making a follow-up.
“It’s in the very early stages. Nothing is set in stone yet,” he said.
But Monteverde will make a second film about Ballard only on one condition. “I would only do it with him [Ballard]. If he’s not involved, I’m not doing it. It’s his life,” he said.
Shooting another movie about Ballard’s work might not be as straightforward as making the first film. There are complications as to who owns the rights to his life story, and a studio buyout debacle left the completed Sound of Freedom in limbo for years.
It all started in 2015 when Monteverde was introduced to Ballard’s mission by the film’s producer, Eduardo Verástegui, who had bought the rights to Ballard’s life story. Then 20th Century Studios acquired the distribution rights to Sound of Freedom, but when the movie studio was bought by Disney in 2019, the movie sat gathering dust and no one knew if it would ever be released.
After much legal negotiation, Verástegui bought the film’s rights back from Disney. An independent film company, Angel Studios, stepped in to help distribute the film through a grassroots crowdfunding campaign.
But that does not mean Verástegui or Angel Studios still own the rights to Ballard’s life story. “It’s an important question, actually,” Verástegui told Newsweek. “Nobody knows what’s going on right now.”
He continued: “When I got the rights back [from Disney] and all the contracts where I used to own the rights of Tim Ballard, everything disappeared.”
He added: “So now there is no such thing as ‘who owns the rights for a sequel or nothing.’ Tim Ballard owns his own life story.”
Verástegui said it was “now up to Tim Ballard to decide what he wants to do with the script [about Haiti] and who he trusts to produce that film.”
The producer said he would be talking with Ballard in the coming days to iron out the details.
Newsweek contacted Ballard for comment by email.
Whether or not Ballard’s story can be told further is out of Monteverde’s hands now. But if not, he said he will continue to make films with a conscience about people who are changing the world because there are “a lot of other stories” to tell.
His next film, Cabrini, due for release in March 2024, will tell the story of the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Vatican, Frances Xavier Cabrini, who against all odds opened schools and orphanages for her fellow Italian immigrants in New York in the 19th century.
“In my opinion, she is one of the most powerful women that has ever walked this earth,” Monteverde said. “It’s about the power of a woman and how she was able to revolutionize New York as an immigrant who came there with nothing and built an empire as big as the Rockefellers…. She was an icon of social justice.”