The “REEL Recovery Film Festival 2012” is about to begin. This is a seven-day celebration of creativity, recovery and addiction. From September 28 through October 4, films run daily at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village. The festival is interactive; a live speaker and audience discussion will accompany each film.
The movies that were chosen are an eclectic mix of new and old features, documentaries, and animated shorts. Each is centered on addiction.
“Oxy-Morons” is an action-packed thriller that shows the horrors addiction to the opioid Oxycontin.
“Ciao! Manhattan” is about Andy Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick. The Village Voice called this flick, “The 'Citizen Kane' of the drug generation.”
“It’ll Be Better Tomorrow” is about Hubert Selby, Jr., the author of “Last Exit to Brooklyn” and “Requiem For A Dream.” Robert Downey, Jr. narrates in the film.
“On the Bowery” Robert Downey, Sr. will attend the festival and present this 1956 classic that Martin Scorsese called “A milestone in American cinema.”
The full schedule is available online at reelrecoveryfilmfestival.org
Examiner Dorri Olds sat down with one of the film presenters, Steve Geng, author of “Thick As Thieves” — a memoir about heroin addiction, jazz, and his troubled relationship with older sister, Veronica Geng, the celebrated New Yorker magazine humorist.
Examiner Dorri Olds: How did you first hear of the REEL festival?
Steve Geng: The organizer, Leonard Buschel, heard of my memoir and contacted me. I met up with him in New York and he told me he’d organized a festival of movies about addiction. I’d loved movies like “Barfly,” “Sid and Nancy” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” so I was interested. One of the films being shown at the festival is “Let’s Get Lost,” a rare movie about Chet Baker that was never made available on DVD in the U.S.
What’s your connection to this movie?
Chet Baker was one of my heroes. He was a famous jazz trumpet player who was also a heroin addict and I mention him a few times in my book, so Leonard asked me to introduce the film.
When did you kick heroin?
Which time? [Laughs] No, kidding aside, it’s been 15 years this time.
Wow, congratulations. Had you glamorized shooting heroin?
Absolutely. It seemed like a fast track to creativity and finding my niche in the world.
Did drugs help you to write?
I couldn’t even write a laundry list until I got away from chemicals. Sober, this book came out of me and got rave reviews all around the country. That shot to hell my myth that heroin was some kind of creative muse.
Can you explain?
I saw heroin as a shortcut to genius. Chet Baker, William S. Burroughs, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, many of the jazz greats and writers I loved, were heroin addicts. I didn’t understand that their talent kept pouring out of them in spite of the heroin, not because of it.
Did you know you were an addict?
When you’re in a shooting gallery with needles in your arm it’s a clue there’s something seriously wrong. You can't call it recreational drug use anymore. I was one of those drug addicts who considered himself a “hope-to-die” dope fiend. It was like a badge of honor. You were going to do this till you died. This was your passion.
Do you mean you loved drugs more than anything in life?
If you had really good heroin you didn’t need sex, food, or anything. You could stare at the end of your shoe for eight hours and be perfectly content. I think that’s a quote from Burroughs. But it was also a lifestyle. Self-destruction and disdain for good health was like getting tattoos or piercings all over your body. It’s a test of how much a person can withstand.
Did Chet Baker ever get clean?
Not according to his biographers and the Amsterdam police who found heroin and cocaine in his hotel room after he died. But the music just kept coming out of him right up until the end. He got better the older he got and the worse his health got. The fascinating thing about this movie is how he looks like walking death on screen but when he raises that trumpet to his mouth the same magic happens as when he was a beautiful kid in his 20s.
Writers in Treatment, the host of the REEL festival, is having an opening night reception at Segafredo Zanetti Espresso Café at 504 Sixth Avenue right down the block from the Quad. Everyone is welcome. Admission is free for “Death of an Addict” or “On the Bowery” ticket holders. For everyone else the reception admission is $15.
The REEL Recovery Film Festival September 28–October 4, 2012 at Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street. Regular admission is $5; Tuesday’s Comedy Night is $25.