Cape Town Recovery Film Festival 2015

Reviews of Cape Town Recovery Film Festival 2015:

The British film, A Royal Hangover, opened Cape Town’s 3rd Recovery Film Festival on 24 September. Described as ‘Think Bowling for Columbine, only with alcohol instead of guns. Drinking for Britain: We don’t shoot ourselves to death here, we kill ourselves with drink – much more dignified.”

A powerful film which could save lives if we can only get it in front of the right audience.

Janet Gourand, Founder of World Without Wine ( reviews A Royal Hangover and four of the thirteen films from the line up.

A Royal Hangover

A powerful and hard hitting film that explores just how alcohol abuse has been integrated into British culture. Director Cauty is fully aware that “alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking” as he has never liked the taste of alcohol and was always considered “weird” by his brothers and friends.

“British drinking culture is something I’ve always found fascinating and slightly bizarre. It’s all around you, wherever you look. It’s completely embedded in our culture, in our history, our politics. Some of our most popular TV shows are based around pubs, and then there’s religious ceremonies, the 18th birthday, weddings, all these key life events, marked with alcohol. It’s like the blood in our veins; it oils society and lubricates us socially. “ says Cauty.

The movie takes us back in time to when water was unclean and unsafe and even children would drink a kind of weak beer and gin was widely consumed – as depicted so well in Gin Lane by British artist Hogarth in 1751.

We hear from French and American people – all who believe that the Brits are renowned for their heavy drinking habits. We see the carnage that takes place in many British cities when young people party on a Saturday night – not pretty and an outrageous abuse of emergency services, hospitals and police. We see the damage done during a lifetime of drinking when Cauty bravely interviews his own Uncle who is feeble and housebound yet still drinking two bottles of whisky a day,

As in South Africa the alcohol industry is all powerful and lobbies the government to protect its own interests and profits. The British government reversed its decision on minimum unit pricing just as the South African government recently reversed its decision on advertising.

Cauty’s film should be standard viewing in British schools – it could just stop the next generation of teenagers from waking up with a hangover.


No Time to Think

Moving from alcohol addiction to something more modern but equally worrying – technology addiction. This film examines the work of Dr Hilarie Cash, co-founder of Restart Internet and Technology Addiction Recovery Programme, which attempts to break the cycle of technology addiction by re-introducing patients to the natural world without their devices.

The gaming industry is huge – and growing exponentially. In 2011 it was worth 4.94 billion – by 2014 it was worth 8.64 billion – and that’s in dollars not rand. We heard the story of a very modern proposal – a young man told his girlfriend that he would like to marry her but only on the proviso that she understood that he would be “unavailable” between the hours of 6pm on Friday to 9am on Monday morning as he would be “gaming”. We didn’t hear whether or not she accepted. Apparently playing these games (just like taking drugs or drinking alcohol) leads to the brain becoming addicted to dopamine which then releases another chemical which is responsible for the craving to repeat the experience.

We heard about an overweight guy who described himself as a “loser” but who was able to re-invent himself in a game – his “avatar” was cool and admired by many people so his on-line life had become more rewarding than real life.

Playing games on line for hours at a time will have psychological effects on developing minds. The part of the brain involved in the game develops strongly but the rest of the brain will not develop as it should. This will manifest in an absence of “focus”. Interpersonal face to face contact uses all 5 senses whereas gaming does not. Young people addicted to technology will often struggle with eye contact.

The film also examined the problem of “distracted drivers” – drivers who are texting or looking at their phones while on the road. Studies have shown that “distracted drivers” are 23 times more likely to cause an accident than a driver paying total attention to the road. This is in comparison with a drunken driver who is 27 times more likely to cause an accident. One has to hope that one never comes across a drunken driver who is texting!

The fact that we are expected to be always “available” and “in touch” was explored and young people especially feel they have to be on Facebook constantly as plans are often made less than 30 minutes in advance. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is very real and can lead to an anxiety disorder.

The film had no answers for us and in fact a psychologist in the audience expressed his concern that even here in South Africa so many young people are addicted to gaming that there is a “tsunami” on its way.


Web Junkie

China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” as a clinical disorder. With extraordinary intimacy, Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab centre where Chinese teenagers are “deprogrammed”. Focussing on three teens, their parents and the health professionals who are determined to help them kick their habit.

China is so concerned about the situation that they have set up 400 “prison like” rehab centres to deal with what they perceive as a huge threat to their young people. This is rehab on an industrial scale and the symptoms do indeed appear to be similar to those suffered when coming off drugs.

“Reality is Fake” shouts one of the teens as he fights his despair at being left in the “boot camp” environment for his digital detox. This film is painful to watch as we see the teens veer between tears and anger, often vented towards their parents. Parents are expected to be fully involved in the process and the “family therapy” sessions are heartbreaking.

We see one of the inmates try to escape – naturally he is caught in the nearest internet café getting his fix. His punishment was 10 days in solitary confinement in order to “self reflect”

One cannot help but wonder if China’s one child policy together with fierce parental pressure on academic performance has resulted in lonely and disconnected children who seek comfort and connection in the virtual world.

In Bruce Alexander’s famous “Rat Park’ experiment rats were kept isolated in cramped metal cages. They were given a choice of clean or drugged water to drink. The majority relieved their stress pharmacologically by selecting the drugged water. When Alexander transferred the rats to “rat heaven” (which was a large cage with 16-20 rats of both sexes, an abundance of food and toys) the rats mostly chose the clean water over the drugged water. Conclusion being that when the rats were offered a stimulating environment and company they would not feel the need for drugs as they felt “connected”.

The goal of the Beeijing rehab centres is to make the kids feel “connected” to real life but sadly there was no indication in this film whether or not this harsh regime had any lasting effects.

The film ended with a story of extreme parental exasperation – a father became so frustrated with his 23 year old unemployed son who spent all of his days gaming that he hired an “online assassin” to murder his son’s Avatar!


Russell Brand Double Bill

This reviewer may be in need of a “Russell Brand detox” by tomorrow. He starred in 3 films at the Recovery Film Festival – and tonight I go to see him perform live in Cape Town!


From Addiction to Recovery

The tragic death of Amy Winehouse at 27 years old caused Russell Brand to make this film. He knew Amy and feels he could have done more to prevent her tragic death. 10 years ago Russell was consuming booze, acid, speed, coke, cannabis, crack and heroin, He took drugs every single day until he was told that he may have only 6 months to live. The story of how he battled to stay clean of drugs is at the heart of this honest and personal film in which he challenges how society deals with addicts and addiction.

Brand talks to scientists, those involved in recovery programmes and the addicts themselves. He explores whether abstinence based recovery, which worked for him, is the way forward.

We see him passionately presenting his case to the Home Affairs Select Committee who have been looking at the efficacy of current drug addiction treatment in the UK.

The main premise of the film is that we need to start regarding addiction in all its forms as a health issue as opposed to a judicial and criminal issue. Brand believes that drugs and alcoholism are much misunderstood by users, non-users and the government.


End the War on Drugs

In this film Russell Brand takes the debate to the international stage as he sets out to discover how various countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse. He questions policy makers and opinion formers. He believes that “a shift” is happening in the way that people view drug addiction but recognises that he has to persuade those who have political power.

At the end of the last film we saw him presenting his case to the Home Affairs Select Committee that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. In fact since that film was made in 2014 the Committee reported its findings, concluding that the British drug laws were failing and that it was a “now or never” moment to reform them. Sadly UK Premier Cameron didn’t agree, insisting that the drugs policy is working in Britain and that we should “stick at it”.

More encouragingly the film examines the successful “Portuguese model” which has decriminalised drug use and seeks to cure addicts and then spends money “reconnecting” them with society rather than prosecuting them.


World Without Wine is a social network that enables men and women to successfully moderate their drinking and become sober by developing tools to support their journey to sobriety. Workshops, recovery coaching and support groups all work together to provide the encouragement needed.


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