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Telling Stories That Liberate

Shooting Heroin writer-director Spencer T. Folmar on why his movies never shy away from tackling challenging topics.

Some of my very earliest memories are going to the movies. I have wanted to be a film director and storyteller my whole life. At first, I fell in love with cinema just from going to my local single-screen historic theater, going to drive-ins in the summertime and renting movies to watch at home. As I got older, I wanted to process why films were always so important to me and what kind of stories I was drawn to. I think there is a universal feeling of wanting to escape into another world when watching a good movie.

Some criticize escapism, but I believe that even for the sake of basic enjoyment, movies provide a service to audiences, allowing us to live in another world for a few hours. It is understandable in times of war, depression, or the current pandemic that we are facing with COVID-19 that people are looking to other worlds and realities to find respite from the current crisis. But I also believe that films can not only entertain, but also teach us something about ourselves and help us make sense of this absurd and often contradictory world we live in.

I feel compelled to tell stories people would rather not deal with – I’ve made films about child abuse and alcoholism, suicide, and now the opioid epidemic – because someone needs to deal with the darker issues in life and bring them to light. I wish that the world were always a good and kind place, that humanity was naturally good-natured, and that I could become a good person … but that’s not the case. As an old English theologian from generations ago, Charles Spurgeon, once wrote, “You cannot slander human nature; it is worse than words can paint it.”

I can appreciate the advantage of watching a PG-rated movie so that it can be viewed with the whole family, but my point is that sometimes adults need to watch adult films that deal with adult issues. The world needs gritty films, not for the sake of being shocking or disturbing, but for the sake of sobering the mind to the fact that people are suffering with existential struggles every day. The world needs films that can explore all areas of life and get down to the muck and the mire of what the world truly looks like.

We need audiences and culture to look death in the eye, in order to truly experience life. If we are not going to allow depravity to rear its ugly head even in cinematic narratives, then we are going to have difficulty appreciating redemption or change in our own lives. I’m afraid that if the movie industry turns a blind eye to the brokenness in our world, it will not only hurt those who are already suffering by not sharing their stories to needy and desperate people, but it will also hurt our own understanding of the potency of what we can do to make a positive change in the world.

My new movie on the dark situation which is the opioid epidemic, Shooting Heroin, is about a community that gives a shit that their kids are dying from drugs. The people don’t know what to do with their pain and anguish, but they care. They know that their kids are dying from prescription painkillers and heroin and they have little faith that anyone in government or anywhere else is going to save their kids. It’s up to them.

I was inspired to make this film because my hometown has been devastated by the opioid crisis. I grew up in what’s known as the Rust Belt of central Pennsylvania. When I was doing my research and development on this story, I would ask people in interviews why they thought this epidemic had gotten so bad in the heartland of America. The most commonly repeated answer I heard was that there was an overwhelming sense of despair. Despair that things were not going to get better in town, in job prospects, opportunity, and what the future held. There was and is a real lack of hope, not only in small towns in America, but throughout my millennial generation and, I fear, the next generation too.

My generation is being wiped out by self-harm and personal annihilation, whether it be from drugs and addiction, or despair and depression. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren because the current generation is either in jail or gone, either mentally or physically.

As I keep up with friends from back home, there is constantly another and yet another classmate that is no longer here today because of drugs. The Greek philosopher Sophocles once wrote, “Despair often breeds disease.” I made this film to give hope that things can change … people can change … our situation and my generation can change. That will only happen if we rediscover a hope for a better future.

Just as in my fictional movie in which a small town fights back against the spread of drugs, we too can be active and have a hand in changing history. That is why I made this film – I want to inspire people to fight for hope and loosen the chains of shame and despair that so many victims and their families have experienced.

This is the first narrative movie about the current opioid epidemic told in the cinematic medium. Please share this film and support it by seeing it online or on cable platforms on April 3!

I, for one, need hope — and this is why I am dedicated to telling stories that liberate. I want people to be transformed by real stories. I think today, during this pandemic, more than ever people need hope and to understand themselves and this world.

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