Our resident film guru, Sarah Shultz, gives us the low-down on movies DoGooders need to know about.
American Meth is a documentary about the growing use of methamphetamines in the western states of the country. Written and directed by Justin Hunt, who grew up in New Mexico, the film is narrated by Val Kilmer and features interviews from law enforcement officers, social workers, and recovering addicts. Strictly speaking, I didnâ€™t think that American Meth was a good documentary. It gives only a topical look at the problem of methamphetamine abuse in middle America, and the second half focuses on one family struggling with the drug to the exclusion of any of the other individuals and groups that were interviewed in the first half. However, I do think that the director, who has won several awards for his work on this documentary does a very good job of illustrating how addictive the drug is and getting an opinion on the problem from many different community groups.
He interviews teenagers and young people who seem to think that there isn’t anything particularly scary or abnormal about meth, and sets their contributions up against interviews with men and women who are struggling to overcome their addiction in a rehabilitation center. While I do think that the accompanying interviews from police officers and the social workers working alongside them are interesting, especially when they seem to disagree on the best approach to solving the problem, thereâ€™s a bit too much sensationalism here. One police officer goes on and on about how women under the influence of meth will sell their bodies or â€śdo other things that they would never do otherwiseâ€ť to the point where I started to doubt his good intentions. The woman in charge of an ad campaign to discourage children from trying meth â€śeven onceâ€ť is juxtaposed with footage of kids laughingly admitting to doing it, and attesting that they’ve never seen anyoneâ€™s face look as bad as the people on the billboards.
My main problem with American Meth is really the second half of the film, which focuses on a couple named James and Holly and their children. James and Holly are both addicted to meth, but they are trying to get sober because they are in danger of losing their children. Their story is interesting, and I rooted for them as viewer, but at the same time the footage of their life together feels both unfocused and exploitative. I could never tell whether the filmmaker was trying to portray them as sympathetic, or if he wanted his audience to judge them for their questionable parenting skills and lack of education. Maybe itâ€™s actually a testament to Huntâ€™s work as a filmmaker that this question is left unanswered, but it was confusing how all of the focus switched to this family, and none of the men and women who were interviewed in the first half reappear in the second.
I think that American Meth would be a better documentary if it lasted a little longer and went into more depth. For instance, there is very little information about where the meth is coming from, or how many of the teenagers who try the drug a few times are likely to become severely addicted. On the other hand, the movie does a great job of showing the ways that methamphetamines can destroy not only individuals, but entire communities. Portland, Oregon is used as an example of a city that has been ravaged by the drug. The downtown area is filmed during the day and at night so the viewer can see how people suffering from meth addiction take cover in the forests surrounding Portland while there are other people around, but take to the streets to find shelter, food and more meth at night. This is striking footage, considering Portlandâ€™s reputation as an affluent, youthful city where people move to enjoy the outdoors and clean living.
Overall, I think that this film offers an intriguing, yet disturbing look at what is currently going on across America. While it is obvious that the problem is enormous, itâ€™s also easy to see how committed to solving it many of these communities are. Itâ€™s also obvious how addictive the drug is, and the fear of relapse is palpable in every interview. I found myself thinking about all the debates about budget cuts and spending weâ€™ve been having in American politics over the past few months as I watched the harried policemen, social workers and school staff who are trying to combat the meth problem. It would seem that we need our safety nets now as much as ever, and I hope that lawmakers across the country will see this film and others like it, and remember that budget cuts affect our ability to offer help and services to people who are struggling from addiction.
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