Three-film series about drug addiction to be presented at Southern Vermont Arts Center

By Makayla McGeeney @MC_McGeeney on Twitter

MANCHESTER — Starting April 28, a three-film series about drug addiction will be shown at the Southern Vermont Arts Center hosted by The Collaborative, Turning Point Recovery Center and Burlington Labs.

"The Other Side of Cannabis" will be shown on Thursday at the center's Arkell Pavilion at 7 p.m. for free. The independent film, directed by Jody Belsher and produced by HeartsGate Productions, Inc., is a 2015 winner for best feature documentary at the Sunset Film Festival in Los Angeles and explores the negative health effects marijuana has on youth.

After the viewing, a panel discussion will be held featuring Turning Point Director Joan Walsh, members from The Collaborative, and Dr. Nels Kloster, addiction psychiatrist. For other post-film conversations, a local police officer will be in attendance as well as the movie producer for "The Hungry Heart," recovering addicts, individuals who lost family members to addiction, and other medical professionals. There will be different moderators for each film, too.

The birth of the series came from Stephanie Lorrette from Burlington Labs because she felt there was a sense of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge in the community about addiction. She was inspired after hearing about "The Hungry Heart" from Dr. Kloster.

"I just really wanted to educate the community because I always hear negative things about drugs and a lack of knowledge," she said. "I wanted to bring forward some sort of educational series."

Executive Director of The Collaborative Maryann Morris hopes it will increase dialogue in the area about the issues of substance abuse, particularly amongst youth, and how it impacts the community.

With the first film talking about marijuana, Morris said there's not a direct correlation of it being a gateway drug to others, but it's the most widely used substance by young people, who are at a higher risk of continuing on to other drugs later in life.

"I'm very focused for the conversation to be on the health implications per use because I don't want to muddy the waters with the legalization conversation," Morris said. "They're very much considering the impact on young people health-wise. A lot of it will be big money like tobacco influencing young people's decision."

She added that continuing the series may be a possibility.

"I would like to do a follow-up series with different films. We know they're pretty powerful and they haven't been shown in the Northshire, particularly 'Hungry Heart,' which is a Vermont made movie," she said. "I'd love to make this a regular film series and show dramatization movies to increase the conversation with youth and the community."

"The Hungry Heart," directed by Bess O'Brien, won the national American Society of Addiction Medicine Media Award for 2015 and takes a look at the "hidden world of prescription drug addiction through the world of Vermont Pediatrician Fred Holmes." Holmes is a suboxone prescriber; the drug is used to help addicts recover, but is sometimes abused as a crutch. The film interviews addicts and compares their recovery to that of Holmes' patients. This documentary will be shown on May 5.

Burlington Labs and Turning Point showed the same series at Southern Vermont College last year and that struck The Collaborative's interest in bringing it to the Northshire.

"It went very well, there were a lot of questions after the films," Turning Point's Walsh said. "There was an interesting exchange of thoughts and ideas. The largest attendance was for 'The Other Side of Cannabis.' The people who come have an interest and join us to be able to learn something."

Walsh said there was a good mix of adults and young adults at the Bennington film panels. Even though Bess O'Brien of "The Hungry Heart" didn't attend, a member from the movie who works at Burlington Labs was present and provided insight on the other cast members who are in recovery.

Greg D. Williams is the director of "The Anonymous People" that was released in 2013 and follows citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives and other public figures in recovery in an effort to fight the stigma that recovering addicts should keep silent. The documentary sparked the Many Faces 1Voice campaign in order to change the public's perception and response to the addiction crisis. This will be shown on May 12.

"We really want to tune people into what addiction is and who it affects and what we can do to change our views and promote healthier living," Lorrette said."

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.