Keeping it REEL

By Dorri Olds 10/18/15

The Reel Recovery Film Festival showcases movies about addiction, alcoholism, treatment and recovery.

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The REEL Recovery Film Festival
Girl On The Edge

The REEL Recovery Film Festival (RRFF) originated in Los Angeles in 2009. Now it is hosted annually in nine cities. RRFF is the only national organization that programs, produces, and promotes recovery events using film, comedy, panel discussions, and solo speakers. California Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Leonard Buschel founded RRFF and this year marks the fourth annual New York City edition.

The Fix caught up with Buschel and a sampling of the featured filmmakers in New York last week. Buschel said, “This is the longest recovery event anywhere—it is seven days in a row from Friday, October 16 at 1pm until 12am Thursday, October 22. Nobody else would ever be so crazy as to be involved with a recovery event for seven straight days.” 

Do any of the panelists ever slip before their scheduled appearances? Buschel laughed and said, “Not yet.”

Leonard Buschel

Buschel, now 20 years sober, likes to make a few things clear, “I don’t raise my hand and introduce myself, ‘Hi, I’m Leonard. I am an alcoholic.’ I say, ‘I’m an addiction survivor.’ If this were a disease, which I don’t even buy, I don’t think you need to constantly re-stigmatize and re-harm yourself when you haven’t had a drink in years.”

He explained, “If a person is in remission from cancer they aren’t still cancerous. They don’t say, ‘Hi, I’m cancerous.’ Cancer survivors have support groups, too, and they say, ‘I’m a survivor.’ We have survived addiction and now we’re living beyond that. The reason I don’t drink is because I’m in recovery and I still go to meetings so I don’t forget I’m in recovery.”

The Fix had an in-depth conversation with director Jay Silverman whose full-length feature, Girl on the Edge, played on Sunday. The film is a fictionalized account of his daughter’s odyssey of early trauma, teen rape, and consequent spiral into addiction.

“Eighty percent of the movie is true,” said Silverman. “My daughter was 15 when an 18-year-old online predator took advantage of her.” 

Silverman said he knew his daughter had had sexual activity while under the influence, “but we didn’t know she was using due to an inability to identify what had really happened to her, which was rape. Denial and shame are a big part of the movie.”

Jay Silverman, his daughter and actors Amy Price-Francis, Gil Bellows and Peter Coyote.

Mackenzie Phillips plays the role of the girl’s drug-addicted mother. When we asked if that character was based on his daughter’s real mom, Silverman said, “I’m not allowed to say, but the answer’s pretty obvious—my daughter’s real story is told at the beginning of the movie. To really understand post-traumatic stress and self-medicating,” Silverman said, “is to understand what really happened.”

Silverman sent his daughter to a residential treatment center that uses an unconventional approach to recovery through equine therapy. Taylor Spreitler is phenomenal in the demanding lead role and Gil Bellows plays her father. Amy Price-Francis plays her loving step-mom and Peter Coyote plays the founder of Maheo. The late Elizabeth Peña shines as a treatment counselor in her final onscreen role.

“If you wake up one morning,” Silverman said, “and go to Google, and say you’re interested in what Buddhists do, you can Google it and it’s all right there. But if your child got into a situation like my daughter did, you don’t even have a clue what to do. Who do you call? A priest? A rabbi? I told her high school what had happened, that she was using drugs and drinking and cutting herself. They said, 'Yeah this happens all the time. It’ll pass.'” 

Desperate to help his daughter, he was willing to go to any lengths. It’s a powerful film and a must-see for any parent thrown into a similar situation. Date rape is a huge epidemic and this film is an important part of the conversation. 

Photo courtesy of Jay Silverman.

Watch the trailer:

Buschel said, “Opening night is a New York premiere of the film How I Got Over by Nicole Boxer. Nicole is the daughter of Barbara Boxer, the unbeatable ultra-liberal senator from California who is now retiring after 10 terms in office.”

The Fix spoke with filmmaker Boxer who was in attendance at the festival. She said, “How I Got Over follows 15 formerly homeless or incarcerated women, now living in Washington, D.C.’s N Street Village, a community for addiction recovery. It follows them as they create an original play for a Kennedy Center performance that is based on their harrowing stories. Viewers witness their transformations from victims to artists.” 

Boxer went on to describe how she became involved in the film festival. “I met the team from RRFF through my partnership in Marin County, California, with Center Point, a facility that works with recovering women, similar to those in my film. It’s been a fantastic experience working with them. I was able to show my film to 70 incarcerated women via the San Francisco Sheriff's office, which was a truly unique opportunity to inspire women who could definitely use the motivation.”

On Saturday during the shorts section, documentary Reaching Out took a close look at the desperate phone call an addict makes for help. Director Matt Heckathorn, who was also in attendance, told us, “The drug epidemic that is sweeping the US is an issue that needs to be talked about and while many strides have been made, there is still a lot of work to be done. Reaching Out is a film that focuses on the front lines of addiction from the perspective of the recovery addiction specialists’ admissions team at Recoveryas.com. The mission of this film is to highlight the trials of the addict seeking treatment and the efforts that are made to get someone the help that they desperately need.

“We have attended the RRFF in the past and believe in what they stand for. We wanted to be part of their voice in trying to showcase addiction and help make a difference in the community. If we don’t try to bring light to these important issues, who will? Every day thousands of people are seeking treatment but thanks in part to the stigma, and the lack of resources and education, they don’t find the help they need. That’s why we had to make this film.

“This has never been done before, and that’s why I wanted to make Reaching Out happen. You see the reality of the addicts who call in every day but these raw experiences of people in crisis and who are seeking treatment is gripping and the experience was eye-opening.”

Still from Sweet Dreams about a day in the life of addict Paula Richards, who supports her habit with prostitution.

Sunday had the 30-minute film Reset. Director Arun Vir who was in attendance told us, “Rylee is a mixed-race teen who descends into drug addiction. After entering treatment at a rehab facility, she learns that recovery is a life-long process that holds no guarantees.”

Vir described her personal story, “I remember sitting one night with my feelings about this experience thinking if I could do anything right now what would it be, and I just wished I could hit a reset button. I believed things could be different and that I could make different decisions. But, I learned I could never change the outcome. This journey had to happen the way it did. My daughter’s road to recovery had to manifest itself the way it did. I had to tell myself that it was perfect.”

Vir added, “I believe movies have the power to heal and we need to connect the dots of our stories to one another and if we can do that, we have a chance at understanding our own imperfections as humans.

Buschel added, “Wednesday night at 8pm, we’re doing a comedy night to benefit the Lenny Bruce Foundation. Kitty Bruce—his daughter—will come. Pat Dixon, a New York comedian who does the Pat Dixon Intervention, hosts. Sunday night, the author and poet Alan Kaufman spoke about the movie Big Surabout a time in Jack Kerouac’s life when he was overwhelmed by stardom and struggling with alcoholism.”

One shocking film you don’t want to miss is The Other Side of Cannabis: Negative Effects of Marijuana On Our Youth.

Watch the trailer:

Other noteworthy festival films include Straight Outta Tompkins, which is about a teen abandoned in New York City who spirals out of control; As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM based on Adam Goldstein, a pioneer of the mashup movement, and Asif Kapadia’s film Amy about doomed singer Amy Winehouse.

And, of course, 2012’s classic film, Bill W.

Watch the trailer:

Click here for the full REEL Recovery Film Festival schedule. After the New York festival concludes, the RRFF comes to Los Angeles.

Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in book anthologies and numerous publications including The New York Times. She last wrote about Laila At The Bridge and Peter Sarsgaard.

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