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Only In New York: Meeting the Decision-Makers

The world seems to be in a terrible mess right now. Things only seem to have gotten worse since that fateful day a year ago when you-know-who managed to win the electoral vote. Perhaps it is normal to think obsessively about this, perhaps not. It’s certainly not healthy, and I look for alternatives. I was fortunate this week. As Prescribed was selected for DOC NYC’s Only In New York program, an opportunity for films-in-progress to meet with documentary industry leaders. I found myself surrounded by people dedicated to making the world a better place. Because that is what the documentary world is — a culture of creators who believe that the documentary form is their best way to better society and life on the planet.

I just finished four days of meetings where I had the chance to connect with decision-makers who have the power to decide the fate of As Prescribed. As hard as we’ve been working on the film, I am sure that As Prescribed was not an easy pick for the OINY committee. It can be difficult for decision-makers to embrace a film like As Prescribed because the tendency is to assume that not only will our film lecture to an audience (no, we aren’t going to do that), but will present stories in a false agenda-driven fashion, as opposed to allowing our story to grow organically and consider other points of view (which is what we are doing). It seems that they realized that we were on the preferable course; I am, of course, grateful.

There were group meetings every morning. I was frantic to get downtown on time the first three days so took a cab, arriving on time each morning. This morning, Thursday, the last day, I thought I could let go of worry and take the subway. Bad call. After an unexpected (to me) delay, everyone on the train had to get off at 59th Street. An emergency of some sort. So I ran up to street level and grabbed a cab. I got the impression that this driver knew what was up with traffic. Twenty minutes later I realized that he didn’t. I did my best to remain calm, but demanded that we change course, head west, and book down 9th Ave., which was, in fact, much quicker, but not quick enough to make up for all the lost time. So I was late for the only morning meeting that started at 10 am sharp. This did not go over well with the industry luminary I was hoping to meet. I pitched; his eyes glazed; and then someone at the table made a joke about Xanax as a segue into their pitch — the “I-could-use-a -Xanax-right-now” joke, which made me cringe, and I said something and I probably shouldn’t have, I know. Then I assured her I was joking. But I wasn’t. She has a wonderful project, so all is forgiven. We’re all on a benzo learning curve, I remind myself.

So that meeting was not so great, but most were, even though I continue to quietly deal with post-benzo/post-concussion symptoms more often than I like. I had my share of cog fog and dizziness, but I managed. Maybe not perfectly, but I managed. I can still have trouble with lights, too. Not always, but it still happens and it’s disconcerting and undermining. I wish my younger, healthier, more confident self could be handling all this. But reality dictates otherwise. And even though they went well, and I was happy with my pitches, the meetings were challenging. Not everyone really wanted to hear about the film or cared about the topic. There were other glazed-over eyes, and I know there were those who dismissed me and the film. It can be difficult for people to wrap their heads around our film. After all, it’s about a drug that is known to cause dependency, but isn’t about addiction. Hmm. People certainly nodded, as though they understood or agreed, but we know that it takes more than a few quick sentences to make this invisible injury understood. And therein lies the basic need for the film. When an audience sees people living it, the benzo nightmare, in the finished film, much will be explained, illustrated, and I predict that audiences will engage viscerally and emotionally, and the will “get it.” And, I’m relieved to report that there were, indeed, decision-makers who “got it” based on our conversations this week. So we’re still on track.

I met with festival directors, outreach strategists, broadcast executives, sales agents, and distributors. I saw familiar faces, and even ran into the cool guy who did the trailer for my first feature film over fifteen years ago. And we recognized each other, which was also pretty cool. I also had a chance to say hello to our office neighbor in Brooklyn who has produced some of the most amazing documentaries ever made. Seriously, she produced Life, Animated; Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry; and God Loves Uganda. Wow.

But back to the real world of diminishing rights, environmental disasters, and the benzo beast. On Instagram I caught word of another celebrity drug-related/Xanax-connected death — Lil Peep, whose story will be covered around the world, and will propagate the benzo abuse narrative. In his case, it certainly seems to be true. As sad as it is to lose anyone to drugs, I worry that the real benzo story will remain obscured. I have to keep working to tell the truer story about the 90%, the benzo victims who did not seek a drug high, who took a benzodiazepine as prescribed; the story of those who are tortured while in benzo tolerance, or while tapering off, or in lingering post-benzo hell.

There was another benzo death this week, a suicide. David Bromberg, I’m thinking of David right now. And I’m thinking of Joseph Leff (October), Jonathan Wagner (May), and Allison’s sister, who made emergency room visits to no avail. The connection between her seizures and lorazepam was not made. She did not make it.

Certainly my heart goes out to Lil Peep and his fans. But my heart, my soul, my purpose, and my life go out to David, Joseph, Jonathan, Allison’s sister, and to all who are the ultimate victims of benzo hell. RIP.