Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Though many aspects of the subject are grim, McMillion Sheldon balances this with beautiful framing."

Huntington, West Virginia is one of those small American towns that has suffered from neglect ever since it was founded. Now, with its major industries closing down, it's in a worse state than ever. As so often when unemployment soars and people lack the resources to build any kind of future, they turn to heroin for relief. Huntington, West Virginia has ten times the national US opioid overdose rate.

The country's 46 year long War On Drugs has seen one approach to addiction override all others: criminalisation and punishment of dealers and users alike. In Huntington, three women are trying to do something different, and Elaine McMillion Sheldon's Oscar-nominated short documentary follows them as they go about their work, allowing them to explain it for themselves. Firefighter Jan Rader uses her medical training to provide emergency support to people who have overdosed. "She saved my life twice in one week," one recovering addict says. Judge Patricia Keller runs Drug Court, a special programme focused on helping those addicts who find themselves moving in an out of prison to take control of their lives and get on the wagon. And Necia Freeman, herself a former addict, gives food to those who are vulnerable and helps them to get off the street.

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United by their determination to help rather than condemn, these women are working to change their city one person at a time. Though they clearly don't think of themselves as heroic, the scale of their work comes across through as we see more and more of the people they help; we also see something of how Jan is passing on her skills. Though many aspects of the subject are grim, McMillion Sheldon balances this with beautiful framing and there are some striking overhead shots that show Huntington, literally, in a different light.

A brief snapshot of a much bigger picture, this is an interesting film as far as it goes but, like its subject, not all that unusual. It would be a shame if its local significance were to be smothered by politically-motivated notions of worthiness. Whilst it's well made, it's not only a short film but a small one, and that matters in relation to the subject matter - it doesn't need to be a big deal to be worth doing.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2018
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A documentary about Huntington, West Virginia, where three women are fighting to end epidemic opiod addiction.

Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Starring: Jan Rader, Patricia Keller, Necia Freeman, Najah Menapace, Scott Lemley, Mickey Watson

Year: 2017

Runtime: 39 minutes

Country: US


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