Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 5:00 pm 
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Michel Negroponte: Methadonia (USA 2005). 88 minutes. An HBO Documentary Films release. Shown at the New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center, September 24, 2005.

Not a very enlightening or intelligent documentary

Negroponte used a DV camera to follow half a dozen New York City "recovering" heroin addicts on methadone maintenance. The point of the title is not a new one. It's that as a rehabilitation tool for drug addicts, methadone, which is just a drug substitute for heroin, isn't such a good idea. Its wide use in the US was initiated back in the Sixties as a transitional stage, but being itself a drug, it's little more than a not-so-great legal high for many addicts, who when on methadone, instead of getting clean are lingering in a netherworld "Methadonia." What we learn is that some of the users Negroponte filmed have been on the chemical for as long as three decades; that clinics are now doling out up to six times the original allowable dose; and that the street availability of benzo-pills like Xanax by which addicts can cheaply supplement and enhance the methadone high means many receiving methadone are not in recovery in any way shape or form. This is certainly important to be aware of. But what's otherwise lacking in Negroponte's pseudo-dramatic narration is any sophistication about the recovery process. The addicts are seen as members of a group, and their leader/counselor Millie, who has been clean for nine years, provides some hard truths, but since there's next to nothing about the Twelve Steps, or up to date rehab statistics or insights, it's hard to see this as anything but dumb as an account of the addiction, treatment, and recovery. Some of the addicts featured who showed up for the festival screening may have gotten motivation from seeing their stories filmed, but viewers of this limited and simplistic documentary are being shortchanged on information. This was definitely one of the NYFF's weakest selections, in my opinion the weakest. I am at a loss as to why it was selected, other than the fact of its being strongly rooted in the New York City environment. I can only deduce that the the jury, which has such a keen eye for film-making quality, are lacking in sophistication about addiction and recovery and were fooled by the dramatic tone into thinking they were getting important revelations, when they were getting nothing much at all.

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