Three local documentaries worth caring about
The Heroin Effect
Finding hope in the heart of New Hampshire’s opioid crisis
The local angle is often touted as a good thing for journalistic storytelling. It adds emotional content to a narrative. But what about when the story being told is about a scourge of untimely deaths and wasted lives?
There no doubt that New Hampshire is ground zero for the opioid crisis in America. It’s been that way long enough to have been a persistent talking point during the 2016 Presidential Primary, and the state comes in second after West Virginia for the number of opioid-related deaths.
Thankfully, Michael Venn’s well-crafted and intimate look at the crisis is also infused with, if not hope, then at least a sense that there’s something to be done and remarkable efforts are underway to stem the destruction.
The film direction takes an objective approach to the fraught topic, but Venn was gifted with articulate local observers, friends, family and community guardians, who offer unsettling commentary. Particularly distressing is the video chronicle of Daniel Couzins, a local guy who captured his personal struggle in a daily video diary. Charming and thoughtful, sometimes funny and brave, but ultimately doomed, Couzins describes his efforts to enjoy the pleasures of his addiction without succumbing to the destructive endgame.
Honesty is rarely offered so eloquently. That Venn’s film points towards a solution makes Couzins’ sad denouement even more of a gut punch.
Welcome Here Again
A Recording Session with the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra
To say the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra is a NH institution is to both overstate and underplay the significance of this gathering of musical friends. Its history stretches back to the early 1960s, and there’s scarcely a degree of separation between the band and some of the greatest practitioners of country dance music in the land. On the other hand, you might have lived in the state your whole life and never heard of them.
This chronicle of the orchestra will correct that second condition. Filmed on March 20, 2016, in the acoustically renowned chapel of Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, the session showcases 16 local musicians at their best. Five well-placed microphones capture every note and even Mother Nature cooperates, cascading the chapel with soft light that shifts subtly as the living music reels forth and sashays among its creators.
Dudley Laufman, a state treasure and a renowned contra dance fiddler, provides a running commentary on the song list and delightful notes about some of the greats of the genre who could not be at this session, such as the late contra dance legend Bob McQuillen (who was featured in his own documentary, “Paid to Eat Ice Cream”).
In a final stroke of fortune, the film is being released at a time when such traditional music has just begun to find a new generation of listeners, performers and dancers. More power to them and to those who are certain to follow.
God Knows Where I Am
A harrowing glimpse into a death caused by mental illness
In the fall of 2007, Linda Bishop, 52, a long-time resident of New Durham, was released from the NH State Hospital after three years of treatment for psychosis related to her bipolar disorder. Bishop was an intelligent and gifted woman and had stymied her sister’s efforts to obtain legal guardianship, so her release was unheralded. She wandered about 10 miles from the hospital in the glow of October foliage before she found shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. There, in plain view of Interstate 93, she took refuge, subsisting on nothing but brook water and apples from some untended trees. She read books and kept a journal as she waited, but for what?
The answer to that question is part of the mystery of mental illness that is hypnotically presented in this unique film through Bishop’s own narrative and with touching voiceovers from those who knew and loved her.
While never pointing a finger of blame, her death by starvation — with potential help all around — is a devastating challenge to the norms of mental health treatment in the richest country on the planet.
That she lived through one of the coldest winters on record heated only by the pilot flame of a forgotten furnace is just one of many cruel ironies that came to light when her body was finally discovered.