Documentary 'A New High' Opens In New York This Week

By Patrick McCartney 11/13/15

The film will make its New York debut at the IFC Film Center.

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Take the thrills of a mountain climbing movie (Everest or K2) and the drama of a recovery movie (Clean and Sober or Amy), and you have the new documentary A New High opening this Saturday in New York City at the IFC Film Center.

Shot on location at the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle, Wash., and, finally, on the summit of Mount Rainier just outside of Seattle, the film chronicles the “special projects” coordinator Mike Johnson and his yearlong attempt to take various addicts in recovery to the summit of Mount Rainer. Johnson is a former army ranger that has an unshakable attitude toward helping addicts and alcoholics. He “chooses joy” and in the case of his father  who was an alcoholic with 27 years sober at the time of the shoot, Mike “has seen change is possible.”

Directed by Samuel Miron and Stephen Scott Scarpulla the movie follows the stories of Dawn, a 41 year old child abuse survivor and recovering addict; Wednesday, the 27 year old woman that survived molestation by her step dad and cocaine addiction; Rick, a 59 year old recovering heroin addict; Shane, 36, who had visitations with his son taken from him as a result of his crystal meth addiction; Chris, whose wife and child were killed by a drunk driver before he developed his own heroin addiction and found his way into sobriety; and Brad, the 24 year old recovering addict that almost becomes a sort of surrogate son to the climbers.

The filmmakers found it “surprisingly easy” to be granted access to these people’s lives and were “deeply moved” by all the participants “willingness and candor.” Dawn credits the encouragement of Mike Johnson. “He is an amazing man. I have never seen one individual give so much to others. He is so uplifting and encouraging and just downright crazy fun.” As far as granting access to her journey, Dawn says, “I felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning but the guys put me at ease immediately. After a while, I didn’t even notice the camera and I was just talking to them.”

The directors intentionally “wanted to break down that learned separation between people in recovery and the rest of the world” by not making a “doom and gloom” drug movie “that portrays addiction as a sure-fire death sentence.” They keep the addiction part on the “surface layer,” and instead keeping the substance of the documentary to the themes of redemption. The directors believe “No matter how dark your past, it’s never too late to start climbing. That’s a powerful realization not just for people in recovery, but for everyone facing an uphill battle.”

The film’s message is as accessible as it is uplifting. Not everyone makes it to the summit, tough choices are made but it’s a remarkably fresh perspective on getting better.

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Patrick McCartney is an actor, improviser, teacher and contributor to The Fix. Find him on Linkedin and Twitter.