Dir: Elaine McMillion
An interesting short-form documentary that focuses in on a large problem’s impact in a specific area, though it doesn’t go as deep or detailed as it has the potential to with its fascinating subjects.
In the town of Huntingdon, West Virginia, this looks at three women and their efforts to deal with the drug and overdose crisis in their community from different angles.
Netflix has completely changed the Short Documentary category of the Oscars in recent years, taking these excellent films that used to be forgotten and hard to watch (unless you went to a festival) and making them easily available. This is a perfect example of why it’s such a welcome change, in less than half an hour this film says a lot about drug problems, potential ways to help users and the positive impact caring women can have on the lives of others.
The film centres on some very interesting subjects, both human and topical. There’s a fascinating statistic that the town’s overdose rate is 10x the national average early on, clearly a reason for focusing a film on this specific place, although it doesn’t then really hone in on the reasons why that’s the case, beyond listing a few factors.
Three key figures are followed throughout the film to see the work they are doing to tackle the problems in their own ways. Firstly Jan Rader the fire chief, who explains that firefighters in the county have become first responders on a staggering number of emergency calls for people who have overdosed. She champions the use of an injection that helps revive those who are having problems breathing because of an overdose, though it also touches on the fact that this wasn’t once part of the job for the fire department and how tough it is now that this is a regular occurrence.
Then, in lesser amounts we also follow Necia Freeman whose ‘Brown Bag Ministry’ involves taking food to women who have taken to the streets to pay for their addiction, giving them food, information about Jesus, and often encouraging them to get help. She’s shown to have a good relationship with the women she talks to, many of whom she knows by name and has a good rapport with as she’s seen them in this situation many times.
Thirdly, in my opinion the most interesting, we see judge Patricia Keller’s ‘Drug Court’, which seems to have taken a slightly more informal tone to proceedings in the court setting, halfway between a hearing and a support group. Sadly, I feel like this is not given the time or focus it deserves. I would have liked a lot more about ‘Drug Court’ and judge Keller, it didn’t really do much to explain what the situation was with that initiative, how it works or why it was implemented, which within seconds of being introduced to her courtroom I was really interested in learning more about, as it seemed to be taking a very innovative approach to the balance between the criminal or legal side of drugs and the desire to help users rehabilitate.
It’s a good short documentary, though I did feel like it was a little too light on detail and depth. Letting the women simply tell their own stories and explain what they do and why as we follow their daily activities, it doesn’t probe them much when they could expound a little more as there’s clearly much more to learn about the crisis they are facing and the hard efforts they are putting into helping in the different ways they consider best.
‘Heroin(e)’ is available to watch on Netflix and is nominated for the Best Short Documentary Academy Award this year. It finds a good angle and comfortable tone from which to look at this crisis, though it had all the potential to go a little deeper into certain parts that call for more detail.