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Film chronicles Vermont’s ‘full-blown’ drug crisis

Franklin County Boys in recovery (no names) from the documentary The Hungry Heart. Stevens-McLaughlin

The Hungry Heart, Bess O'Brien's documentary about a makeshift addiction clinic in St. Albans, Vt., was quietly produced more than two years ago. But Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently thrust the film into the international spotlight when he touted it in a speech last month.

The film, a fly-on-the-wall look at prescription-drug abuse, focuses on Fred Holmes, a retired pediatrician who willed himself into becoming an expert in treating opiate addiction after discovering many of his teenaged patients were hooked on painkillers.

Vermont's spiralling substance abuse rates have recently been the subject of heightened media scrutiny after stories in mainstream outlets highlighted the incongruousness of one of the most idyllic U.S. states as a backdrop to the growing epidemic.

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In an address last month rolling out a larger plan to fight what he called a "full-blown heroin crisis" gripping Vermont, Mr. Shumlin announced his office would pay for the film to be shown in every middle school and high school in the state.

Ms. O'Brien, who financed the film herself and worked with only one cameraman and one editor, was surprised last month to find herself the recipient of a standing ovation from the Vermont House and Senate.

The documentary, a series of portraits of young users who refuse to be pitied or pigeonholed even as they tell tragic stories of drugs capsizing their lives, has already toured to more than 30 towns across Vermont and is currently in national distribution . Based in Northeast Kingdom, Vt., Ms. O'Brien is one of the directors of Kingdom County Productions, a non-profit arts organization that produces film and theatre, and arts education programs.

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About the Author

Adam Nayman is a contributing editor for Cinema Scope and writes on film for Montage, Sight and Sound, Reverse Shot and Cineaste. He is a lecturer at Ryerson and the University of Toronto and his first book, a critical study of Paul Verhoeven's SHOWGIRLS, will be published in 2014 by ECW Press. More


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