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McGill 11/03/2014 - 08:00AM

Guest Blog: A Review of EAST HASTINGS PHARMACY & BEVEL UP

This is an audience guest blog from filmmaker and former journalist Boyce Richardson, who regularly attends Cinema Politica Concordia & Cinema Politica McGill screenings. This post originally appeared on Richardson's own blog, and is republished here with the consent of the author.

The consumption of non-prescription drugs that has become rampant in modern society, is to me, one of the more terrifying subjects that seems to hang over us all as a threat. Personally, I find myself extremely lucky never to have been involved, either myself, or through the agency of my four children, in the serious effects of drug-taking. Not yet, anyway.

But it is a subject that documentary film-makers keep worrying away at. Cinema Politica McGill  this week screened two excellent films of around forty minutes each, shot on-site in the Hastings east area of Vancouver, which is acknowledged to be the drug-abuse centre of Canada.

The audience at the McGill University screenings is made up usually entirely of students. My friend and I seem usually to be the only outsiders who happen along, and these students all seem quite young, relatively inexperienced, and terribly earnest (and they are mostly young women). It is to their credit that they really want to do something about the drug problem, as was evident after the screening when a representative  from another McGill group called Standpoints, moderated a lively discussion. Most of the young people who responded worried about how to solve the problems portrayed in the films, in which social workers interacted with what seemed to be the hard core of desperate street addicts. Occasionally one of them would mention wider political or social questions, but their emphasis seemed rather on the immediate problem of the committed addicts.

The first of the two films screened was Bevel Up: drugs, users and outreach nursing by the renowned Vancouver documentarist Nellie Wild, who has for some decades been producing superb radical accounts about many of the most severe social problems of our time  I recall her wonderful accounts of the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, and her 1993 dissection of some native logging blockades in protest against clearcut logging of the BC inheritance of rainforest (relevant to the films screened last week at Cinema Politica Concordia, about which I wrote last week), and her magnificent 1988 account of the Filipino revolution, A Rustling of Leaves.

She dealt with the level of  drug addiction in 2002, with her splendid movieFIX: The Story of an Addicted City , which dealt with efforts to introduce injection sites in Vancouver.  These efforts have become successful, and Bevel Up  follows the Street Nurses who work to reach out to Vancouver drug addicts where they are usually to be found, in or close to the street. “We work on the streets and in shelters, hotels, parks, bathhouses, corrections and detox facilities. We work with diverse communities including sex workers, people who use drugs, street youth and men who have sex with men, “ they say on their Web site.

Nettie Wild’s film above all else is a magnificent tribute to the skill, patience and dedication of these remarkable people. As exhibited in the film, which follows them as they go about their work, day after day, night after night, they manage to gain the trust of the people they want to help by adopting completely non-judgmental attitudes towards them, accepting them as and for what they are, and refusing to impose anything on them that might be unwelcome. Although they would no doubt reject this characterization of them, the work they do requires what seem to me to be almost saint-like qualities.

But I think there is something more to be said about this problem than is to be picked up by just following this social effort, however, praiseworthy it may be. The North American drug phenomenon has become a huge economic factor on the continent, fuelling hundreds of thousands of jobs, making Americans the most-imprisoned population on earth, and dominating the country’s relationships with, especially, Latin America. Although it is pretty clear that only by taking the drug trade out of the hands of criminals can any progress be made in solving the immense problems it creates for American (and Canadian) society, it is crystal clear that there is no will to take the needed ameliorative measures. So the future seems to be destined to be as it has been in the past --- a drug trade run by criminals, employing thousands of police, judges, and correctional officers, and filling prisons to such an extent that during recent moves to reduce prison populations the citizens in various places have so strenuously objected as to cause their governor to say, as has happened in New York state, “this is absurd: we cannot keep people in prison just to create jobs for other people.”  This is a mad-house, and  these problems cannot be solved by fiddling around the edges, or even by the selfless efforts of samaritans who devote their lives to people who are at the far edge of desperation, as shown in Ms. Wild’s brilliant film. Nor do I think that the ideas expressed at last night’s screening that are being collected by the young animator and sent to relevant authorities, will influence policies in any respect.

The second film, equally interesting, was called East Hastings Pharmacy, a film by Antoine Bourges, which, as the Cinema Politica web site says, “is a short film documenting the process in which patients visit a special pharmacy to receive their methadone dose, they must take this dose in front of the pharmacist, and this entire procedure involves a series of rituals, negotiations and confrontations in which the staff’s tranquillity is the only response to the suffering of bodies ravaged by years of using.”

 

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