BTG Filmmaker, Miranda Stern chats about her Bridging the Gap film, Clean. Miranda shares her inspirations, her BTG experience and he hopes for the film.
What gave you the idea for your film?
My husband and I have been discussing starting a family for a while now. However, motherhood as a recovering addict is not only shrouded in stigma, but also a medically, ethically, and psychologically complex terrain to navigate.
When the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown, we started picking up cameras and filming each other. We chanced upon this playful and self-reflexive style, but more than that, something deeper started to happen – the camera became a painful tool of reflection at times. It allowed us to ask questions we wouldn’t normally ask.
I’ve spent so long not talking about these topics, squashing them down and hiding them from the world. So, channelling some of this amorphas mass into a narrative felt really empowering, then the BTG topic of ‘tomorrow’ came along and it felt like the stars were aligning!
What would you hope the audience takes away from your film?
Many representations of addiction sensationalise a dirty, thieving, lack of moral turpitude and animal-like desperation for the next fix, but rarely frame it in the context of why people are that way… I wanted audiences to think and feel something about addiction that maybe hasn’t touched them before.
Something unexpected about the nature of regret and the self-stigma that occurs when negative stereotypes are internalised. Storytelling can help unpick these complex attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, and structures that interact at different levels of society and manifest in prejudicial attitudes, as well as discriminatory practices and care systems.
I believe that humanising these experiences becomes a vital step towards conceptualising a fairer and kinder society for everyone, as well as treating addiction as a public health issue, and a medical condition rather than a moral failing. A bit of compassion can go a long way and I think we need that kind of sentiment now more than ever. It doesn’t matter what the drug is, it’s the emotional state that is so destructive, which is why I can see tech addiction is going to become a pandemic all of its own. So these conversations feel important…
The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics are wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help, they have no hope. And I genuinely believe you can’t do it on your own. It’s a strategy for survival, for managing one’s emotional state, and for a short while it works, so you keep doing it, but by the time you realise the consequences are unmanageable, it’s too late.
It becomes your life, your religion, your everything. So just saying stop really doesn’t work.
As an aside, whilst researching this film I chanced upon the following experiment:
Scientific research exploring the self-administration of morphine in animals in the 1970s proved that when rats were offered two water bottles – one filled with water and the other with heroin – the rats would repetitively drink from the drug-laced bottles until they all overdosed and died. Every single one. In a largely forgotten and overlooked experiment, Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander hypothesized that this might be related to the setting and conditions they were kept in.
In contrast to the small, solitary, metal cages of the previous experiment, he and his colleagues built ‘Rat Park’, a large housing colony 200 times the floor area of a standard laboratory cage. They were free to roam, play, and socialise, they had mental stimulation, and the capacity to mate and bear offspring… And they were given the same access to drug-laced water bottles. Not a single rat over-dosed*.
*“Even when they rarely did imbibe from the drug-filled bottle, they did so intermittently, not obsessively, and never overdosing.” Reference: Alexander BK, Beyerstein BL, Hadaway BF, Coombs RB. Effect of Early and later colony housing on oral ingestion of morphine in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1981;15:571-576.
However, the human equivalent of ‘Rat Park’ can’t be built in a lab. Contrary to many preconceptions, recovery takes a lot of time, effort, and energy and that extends to loved ones too. There is no magic wand solution or quick fix. No shortcut or magic bullet. And no guarantees.
But I truly believe you can’t do it on your own. I suppose that was the starting point for this film – I don’t think I would be clean now if it weren’t for the infinite and endless love and support I’ve had from my partner, who has stuck beside me, despite the odds.
What was it like being involved in BTG?
Having never studied film before, I was entirely autodidactic, and came to BTG totally unformed as a storyteller! I’d picked up a few things here and there from working in broadcast, or working solo on campaign films, but I probably had more bad habits than good ones. So, the opportunity to experiment, to grow, and critically I think, also to fail… in a safe environment… was probably the most valuable experience I’ve ever had. (In fact, I loved it so much, that I’ve now gone on to study for an MA in documentary filmmaking!)
SDI has curated an experience where each individual filmmaker is allowed the space to glean what they need from it. Taking an idea from genesis to full fruition is not always a straight-line forward and so being able to do so with the support of SDI is extremely precious.
The processes can feel nebulous like you’re feeling your way in the dark, and there’s not always a road map to guide you through. Intensely workshopping topics such as research, development, directing, creating a trailer, and pitching gives you certain tools to anchor yourself throughout this nebulous creative journey. They are like beacons to guide you through the processes of thinking about how to articulate intent using an audio-visual language, how to cultivate some kind of ‘authorial voice’ and how to think of your proposal as something malleable rather than concrete.
In the same way (as I learnt through BTG) that an archaeologist has this vast space and doesn’t know what they are going to find but must have some idea of the question they are posing at the onset, or they won’t find anything at all!
I think for me, the chance to litmus test ideas in a group setting and get feedback from people you really admire and who work in the industry, was one of the most valuable elements of the whole experience. I learnt to think about the spaces and silences that resist definition, narratorial ambiguity and elliptical structures when to withhold and when not to… how to give an audience 2 + 2 rather than 4… These were all new concepts for me, and I feel like I’ve grown exponentially as a storyteller thanks to BTG and SDI. We also had a really inspiring cohort and I definitely learnt something from each and every person there.
What are your hopes for the year ahead?
To keep telling stories! I’m also now studying documentary at NFTS and my first funded drama is going to be shot in November. I feel like I lost a lot of my life to addiction (although I am one of the lucky ones because there is always more to lose) and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be!