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// Films // Cottonland

National Film Board


Nancy Ackerman / Canada / 2006 / 54 ' / English


Angela Baker
Nance Ackerman
Alain Dupras
Annette Clarke

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Awards & Festivals

2007, Winner, Golden Sheaf Awards / Short Film and Video Festival, Yorkton, Canada, Jury Award
2006, Winner, Atlantic Film Festival, Ed Higginson Award for Best Cinematography

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In Production

A doc that emphasizes the importance of collective approach to the problems of addiction and dependency


When the last of Cape Breton's once thriving coalmines shut down in the late 1990s, the shrinking population of Glace Bay faced chronic unemployment. While covering the crisis, celebrated photographer Nance Ackerman saw what she describes as the human cost of cultural genocide in a white community struggling to come to terms with its loss. It was a tragedy that haunted Ackerman long after her assignment was over.

In her new film, Ackerman reveals how easy it is for a social dependency on the state to carry over into a personal dependency on a potent little pill, the prescription painkiller OxyContin. With the collaboration of recovering addict Eddie Buchanan, Cottonland guides us through a culture of despair. We encounter a number of smart, self-aware men and women at different stages of dependency. Some have managed to shift to the detoxifying effects of methadone; others remain in thrall to the power of their addiction. All speak candidly and unflinchingly of the ritual of the fix.

Nance Ackerman's analysis is as sharp as the end of a needle. Her film demystifies the world of the addict, while showing us the complex social nexus that contributes to such severe dependency.

How does an entire community fall into despair? What happens when the social order is weakened by forces beyond its control? Cottonland draws a coherent line between economic and social depression. In its pointed focus on the troubled community of Glace Bay, this fearless documentary also asks us to consider the deeper roots of widespread social problems.

Cottonland doesn't absolve the addict of responsibility but it does illuminate the conditions under which the addict thrives. It also reminds us of the spiral of social ills that follow addiction as families break down and crime increases. Tragically, it is the people on whom the state once depended for its robust economy that now need the most help.

If a combination of social and economic factors increase the likelihood of dependency, a strong and cohesive social network can help people to resist. Ironically, this network exists in the neighbouring Native community of Membertou, where the economy is flourishing and a culture of hope thrives after generations of despair. Ultimately, Cottonland affirms the power of possibility.


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