“The more we talk about it, the better”

In 2015, 3,674 drug poisoning deaths were registered in England and Wales. At 43.8 deaths per million population, the mortality rate from legal and illegal drug misuse was the highest since comparable records began.

“Deaths involving heroin and morphine have more than doubled since 2012, partly driven by a rise in heroin purity and availability over the last 3 years,” states Vanessa Fearn, Researcher for the Office for National Statistics, in their latest report. “Age is also a factor in the record levels of drug deaths, as heroin users are getting older and they often have other conditions, such as lung disease and hepatitis, that make them particularly vulnerable.”

Drug misuse is the oft-overlooked problem blighting our society. And it’s getting worse. But capturing the true magnitude of drug addiction in the UK, and understanding its impact, is a complex and inexact science.

The Recovery Street Film Festival, a pop-up film festival showing a series of 3 minute films made by people who have been affected by addiction, was able to shed light on the lived reality of it in a way the stats never could.

Recovery Street Film Festival: Empowering for filmmakers, enlightening for audiences

“The aim is to empower people affected by addiction by giving them a voice, providing a platform for them to tell their own stories,” the organisers said of the initiative which is running throughout Recovery Month. “We want the films to show a different side to the story of addiction: one that shows a true picture of the determination, commitment and courage that is required to start life afresh.”

Emma Wakefield, an acclaimed documentary maker and one of the judge panellists, spoke at the festival launch about the cathartic power of celebrating and taking pride in recovery through such films: “Let’s banish shame through telling stories. The more we can talk about it the better.”

Recovery Film Festival 2015

David Cohen, of “Kicking the Habit” fame highlighted the pressing need for greater awareness and education to tackle complacency, his own son losing his life to abuse: “He thought he knew everything about drugs – he was wrong.”

So through the medium of film, the audience was able to follow the story of addiction and recovery from the viewpoint of those who have been there. Each of the ten shortlisted films took a deep plunge into the very stark, honest and human experience of being stuck in the darkest of addiction’s phases, and the unique pathways people take to come out the other side.

Ten shortlisted films each told their own story of recovery
Ten shortlisted films each told their own story of recovery

Hope Inside showed a series of interviews with service users at Wilcott Prison, revealing their ‘lightbulb’ moment when they were able to face their own realities.

Shirley’s Story illustrated the destructive nature of dependency on alcohol, as well as the powerful way a switch can flick (for her, becoming a grandmother) to give someone the strength to seek help.

Jimmy’s Story was a frank, personal insight into the life and struggles with addiction faced by one man from childhood to the present. As the film was announced a prize winner, I turned to find Jimmy sat behind me: “How do you feel?” – “I just can’t believe it,” he gasped, as with true elation he made his way to the stage.

Jimmy collects his prize for his film
Jimmy’s Story: David Cohen hands an ecstatic Jimmy his prize

Moving, and at times difficult to watch, ultimately the films as a collective had the purpose of warding against the dangers of substance abuse, inciting empathy for those that find themselves caught in its wrath, as well as providing hope for the very real opportunities to escape it.

And help is out there – with alcohol and drug treatment services now well established in communities across the country, increased education and awareness are bringing more and more positive interventions to the fore. As Debbie Lindsey, CEO of Blenheim, a leading London charity helping people address issues relation to their alcohol and drug use says: “We believe in people’s capacity to change. We hope that these stories offer inspiration to others who may not believe that they too can make positive choices of recovery.”

Empowering for the filmmakers, and enlightening for the audience, the set of films were testament to the power of storytelling to bring to life the complex and misunderstood predicament of the regular people fighting, overcoming, and those yet to be free of, addiction in modern day Britain.

Let’s not let it remain a taboo. Let’s “banish shame through storytelling.”

The third annual Recovery Film Festival was launched on 7th September at Rio Cinema in Dalston. Ten shortlisted films on the theme of ‘Recovery’, focusing on those who have lived experience of recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, whether themselves or a loved one, were screened and three winners announced. The festival is support by a consortium of addiction charities and Public Heath England. For more information and forthcoming screenings, visit their website here. The website also has some useful links for those seeking help.