2018 Reel Recovery Film Festival Returns to New York

By Dorri Olds 11/02/18

The fest is the brainchild of Leonard Buschel, founder of Writers in Treatment (WIT), a nonprofit organization that helps alcoholic and addicted writers get clean.

Eric Clapton with guitar in clip from "Life in 12 Bars"
The RRFF opens with a screening of the Eric Clapton documentary, "Life in 12 Bars." Image via Showtime

Calling all cinephiles! The REEL Recovery Film Festival (RRFF), which is celebrating its 10th year, is back for its 6th Annual New York City Edition. The festival kicks off its public program at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, with a screening of the Eric Clapton documentary, Life in 12 Bars. Click here for a free ticket to the documentary (or any movie at the festival), courtesy of Clapton’s treatment center, Crossroads Centre Antigua. The CEO of Crossroads, Nicos Peraticos, will be in attendance to give a short talk and introduce the film.

For the full Nov. 2–8 schedule, visit the RRFF website. Note: All tickets are General Admission so, word to the wise: arrive early in order to nab yourself a seat.

Every year since RRFF sprouted up in New York, I’ve attended this awesome week-long festival and had a blast meeting sober people. The fest is the brainchild of Leonard Buschel, founder of Writers in Treatment (WIT), a nonprofit organization that helps alcoholic and addicted writers get clean. WIT also publishes the Addiction Recovery Bulletin newsletter, and created the annual Experience Strength and Hope Awards. This year’s big award winner was Jane Velez-Mitchell for her New York Times best-selling memoir, iWANT: My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life.

Buschel spoke to The Fix about how he got here and what makes this year's RRFF so special.

“After 26 years of abusing everything from Valium to vodka and cocaine to codeine, I crashed and burned. I smoked breakfast, drank lunch and snorted dinner.”

Finally, beaten to his bottom, the depressed and close-to-hopeless Buschel schlepped himself into 12-step recovery at the Betty Ford Center.

“I’d prayed at the Western Wall,” he said. “I’d sat in temples of Kyoto, cried my eyes out at the Anne Frank House, but it wasn’t until I went to Betty Ford that I decided to get clean. I was horrified at the time, thinking it was some Christian enclave. Thankfully, I learned that wasn’t the case.”

“This year’s RRFF received generous support from the Addiction Policy Forum,” Buschel said. “So thanks to them we have some really special events that didn’t happen at the Los Angeles RRFF week in October that just ended. So, one movie that’s just for our New York crowd is the first theatrical screening of the Eric Clapton documentary, Life in 12 Bars.”

Such a perfect title since Clapton loves the blues.

Buschel continued: “We had to find a bigger venue this year because our audience has grown so much since we started. Judging by last year’s enthusiastic turnout, we are expecting an audience of around 2,000. So, this year, it will be at the 100-year-old Village East Cinema, which is a New York City landmark. Another special treat is on Monday afternoon at 3 o’clock when we’ll have another complimentary screening, the Bill W. documentary.”

The documentary’s director, Kevin Hanlon, will be at the theater and will give a talk. The film, which was created using old archives, is a moving documentary about AA founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Seeing those two on the big screen when it first came out gave me such a thrill. In my humble opinion, it is definitely worth watching the movie a second, or third, or fourth time.

Addiction specialist and psychodrama expert, Tian Dayton, PhD, who is the author of 15 books including Emotional Sobriety, will be presenting a 6 p.m. panel on the last night, Thurs., Nov. 8, which will include a few videos, followed by a conversation with the audience. Directly after that is Buschel’s talk at 7 p.m.

“My panel, Recovery Is a Verb, will be a conversation about the state of addiction in America,” Buschel said. “Then we will close with a 21st anniversary screening called Gridlock’d. It’s a great film starring Tupac Shakur, Tim Roth and Thandie Newton, with Elizabeth Peña, Lucy Liu and John Sayles. It’s about two guys trying to get into a government detox program. Tupac plays Spoon and Tim Roth is Stretch. It was written and directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall.”

“We get 150 submissions from filmmakers around the world,” said Bushel. “We watch every one of them. Our panel votes on which are the very best and it is never easy to narrow it down. [There are] so many great submissions.”

Click here for your free ticket!

More Festival Highlights

Coach Jake (2017): At 70 years old, Martin “Coach Jake” Jacobson is the winningest high school coach in NYC history. But this year, both on and off the field, may be the most challenging yet. Directed by Ian Phillips. Special Appearance by Coach Jake and director Ian Phillips. 82 min.

Peace, Love and Zoo (2018) This film explores the colorful world of artist and recovery guru, Zoo Cain, as he uses art to ease his journey into darkness through cancer and a difficult relationship. Directed by Reginald Groff. Special Appearance by Director Reginald Groff and star Zoo Cain. 68 min.

When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story (2010) Based on the true story of the enduring love story between Lois Wilson and Bill W. and the transformational social movements they founded. Directed by John Kent Harrison. Starring Winona Ryder. 92 min.

That Way Madness Lies (2018) Filmmaker Sandra Luckow’s scary account of her brother’s dangerous and ever-escalating cycle of arrests, incarcerations and commitment to mental institutions, one of which included a stay in Oregon State Hospital (the setting of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Directed by Sandra Luckow. NY Premiere. Personal Appearance by director Sandra Luckow. 101 min.

Films made by women, starring women, about women.

These films are not just for women. Everyone is encouraged to come and to join in the discussion after each film.

Recovering (2017) In this hour-long pilot, Cally Claremont, the adult child of an alcoholic (and so naturally, a recovering perfectionist), must seek help from her estranged sister and a famously sober rock star in order to save her unique treatment center from closing its doors. Directed by Carly Keyes. 46 min.

Cleaner Daze (2018) is a dark comedy series about addiction, written by a recovering drug addict. The story follows a newbie drug counselor while she struggles with a crew of misfit teenage drug addicts and her own secret addiction. Starring Abigail Reno. Directed by Tess Sweet. 55 min.

Ciao Manhattan (1972) Essential viewing for anyone intrigued by 60’s pop culture, the New York art scene and the Summer of Love. Ciao is a thinly disguised biopic of the last days of “tragic muse” and Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, who died two weeks after the film was released. Directed by David Weisman and John Palmer. 84 min.

Do No Harm: The Opioid Epidemic (2018) Today’s opioid epidemic is the worst man-made public health epidemic in American history. Every year we lose more people to opioid deaths than were killed in the entire Vietnam War. Narrated by Golden Globe winning actor Ed Harris. Directed by Harry Wiland. 90 min.

I’m looking forward to RRFF and seeing Buschel again. This tireless innovator is now 24 years clean and sober. Man, I wish I had his energy.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.