Anonymity on the Silver Screen
Join Together speaks with Greg Williams, producer of “The Anonymous People,” an independent documentary about the over 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction.
Tell us about your background and personal experiences that have led you to take on this project.
Greg Williams: During my first five years or so in recovery, I was hyper-aware of feeling like I was living in two worlds—a son and student by day and a secret person in recovery by night. I was very uncomfortable knowing that people in the recovery meetings supported and encouraged me, but outside of the 12-step rooms, I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk about how great my life was.
As a part of my Masters degree, I began to talk to people who felt the same way. I had the good fortune of learning from people like Bill White, who is probably the nation’s authority on the history of addiction treatment and recovery advocacy. I was taught that anonymity did not mean I couldn’t share about my recovery status publicly and advocate for others.
You’ve described the development of “The Anonymous People” as one of the most powerful learning experiences of your life. Can you share some of that learning with us?
Greg Williams: Last year when I put The Anonymous People out there as a Kickstarter campaign—and we received nearly double our donations goal—I thought, “Wow, there are a lot of people out there who really care about this issue.”
Throughout each step—test-driving the movie earlier this year in select markets, KinoLorber picking up the distribution rights and establishing the Gathr theatrical on demand model—I got a little more excited.
But truthfully, the most gratifying part of this entire experience was meeting and talking with people like Maetta Broadus in Kentucky who is featured in the film. Her love and appreciation for her recovery life is infectious and I’m humbled to serve as a recovery advocate with thousands of others across the country just like her who will no longer stay silent.
“Anonymity” has been both a foundation of the early recovery movement and also considered by some to be a barrier to its progress in the future. Can you share your perspective on this issue?
Greg Williams: Bill White says, “We will shape the future of recovery with a detached silence or with a passionate voice.”
Throughout history, we’ve watched other movements struggle without a unifying message. Our message is pretty simple. We are people in recovery from a disease who now live dynamic, productive lives, just like people who are in recovery from heart disease or cancer. But others can’t know about our disease unless we tell them. Congress can’t know and neither can the media.
If it wasn’t for recovering people sharing their stories and advocating for treatment in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s I very likely wouldn’t be alive today. It is my duty to carry this forward for future generations.
Where do you see the recovery movement going from here, after both studying it and living it so intensely over the past few years?
Greg Williams: I think the future looks really bright because we have grassroots momentum on our side. Education and a new language is the answer to many of our pitfalls. And we have a new action campaign, in partnership with Faces & Voices of Recovery. ManyFaces1Voice.org is the response to the one question everybody asks after seeing The Anonymous People: What can I do to help? This site elevates passion for recovery into the tools needed for recovery advocacy.
We understand you’ve made arrangements to help anyone interested in hosting a screening of “The Anonymous People.” Please tell us about those resources.
Greg Williams: The concept is a brand-new, movie-going experience called Theatrical on Demand and a company called Gathr is pioneering that experience. Anyone can serve as a movie “captain” by following a few simple steps including selecting a nearby movie theater and the day and time they’d like the film to show. The folks at Gathr negotiate with the theater so that all a captain does is promote the screening and guarantee a certain number of predetermined tickets will be reserved.
Anyone can watch a film trailer at Gathr’s link and sign up to captain a screening.
Greg Williams is a communications specialist, addiction policy expert and, above all, an activist for the transformation of the current response to addiction in America. Mr. Williams holds a B.A. in communications and media production from Quinnipiac University. He also holds a M.A. from New York University specializing in addiction public policy, documentary film and health financing.