Meth film provides a warning and hope
'American Meth' shows impact of the drug on small towns
ROOSEVELT People hear the rumors about meth. Justin Hunt is determined to show them the reality.
Hunt is the independent filmmaker behind the feature-length documentary "American Meth," which he's currently touring around the western United States. The movie will be shown free to the public Tuesday and Wednesday in Roosevelt and then Vernal.
A reporter for an NBC affiliate in New Mexico for eight years, Hunt launched his own production company four years ago. One of his early projects was the movie "Meth Monster," which explored meth use in San Juan County, N.M. When someone suggested the focus of "Meth Monster" was too narrow, the inspiration for "American Meth" was born.
"I got challenged by a friend to try and do something to change people on a larger scale, and this is what I chose to do," Hunt said during a recent telephone interview.
"American Meth" is two movies in one. The first part of the film documents efforts by communities across the West to combat meth. Hunt travels from Oregon to New Mexico meeting people who are addicts and those who are trying to help them. He even stopped briefly last summer in Vernal, where a teenage girl explained that using meth was a way to deal with the boredom of living in small-town Utah.
"It's not a metro drug, it's a rural drug, and it's taking over these communities one little town at a time," Hunt said, citing statistics that show that 82 percent of people who use meth will be addicted to the drug until they die.
For the second part of the documentary narrated by Val Kilmer, Hunt introduces his audience to James and Holly. Hunt spent several days on two separate occasions living with and filming the twenty-something couple as they struggled to stay off meth. He also filmed their four children fending for themselves. The children all suffer from developmental delays because of Holly's drug use during her pregnancies.
"You really get a taste of what that lifestyle is like," Hunt said. "To me, the time with James and Holly is the application to the rumor. You see that they are real people, not just mythological creatures. They're real people dealing with real problems. They live next door to you."
Hunt initially wanted to spend some time filming an active user, capturing their ticks, paranoia and other meth-associated behaviors. But instead of capturing the "freak show," Hunt said, he chose to focus on the possibility that there is hope for those addicted to meth.
"By the end of the film, you're pulling for James and Holly to do well," he said. "It's utterly fascinating and frightening at the same time. As much as you don't like them because they're meth addicts who have kids, you care about them because they're humans who have children."
Hunt said he talked to a lot of meth addicts during the shooting of the movie, and many of the people who come out to see the film are active drug users or those trying to break the addiction. He doesn't know what draws them to the theaters, but he knows how to spot those who have used the drug.
"It's really in their eyes," he said. "I really think that's how you spot a meth addict, because they carry a shame about them that other people don't carry. It doesn't matter what their background is, it doesn't matter where they come from if they're in that world, you can see it by looking them in the eye."
Hunt said the shame is the result of using a drug that takes people "to a place that we're not meant to go."
"I've talked to people who have been off of it for 10 years, and they're still scared to death of it," Hunt said. "Yes, they're recovering, but I don't think they ever truly recover. I don't want people to think recovery is impossible it's not."
Jeff Freestone, an OSHA-approved safety instructor at the Uintah Basin Applied Technology College, is responsible for Hunt's trip to the Uintah Basin. Freestone said he first became aware of the prevalence of meth in the region when he attended a conference sponsored by the Vernal Police Department in May 2006.
"Once I recognized that there was a significant meth problem in Vernal, that got me going to teach a meth class in Vernal," he said.
Freestone said he frequently has students who talk about their experiences with meth. He said he was talking with his sister in New Mexico about what he was hearing in the classroom, and she suggested he contact Hunt.
"She said his approach is unique and different, and you should get to know him," Freestone said.
After a meeting over coffee, Hunt agreed to bring "American Meth" to Vernal. A second showing was later arranged for Roosevelt.
The Roosevelt show is 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Roosevelt Junior High School auditorium. The Vernal show is 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Cinema 5 Theaters, 1400 W. Highway 40. Both shows are sponsored by the college and are free to the public.
Hunt said he doesn't get much immediate reaction from people who watch his movie, which isn't visually graphic but does contain language that might be offensive. He said it normally takes a few days before comments start trickling in by e-mail or on his MySpace site. Many of those comments focus not on the language in the film or on its brutal realism but on the desire to combat meth.
"There's this patriotic sense in every American, and I really believe that to a certain degree, we'll put up with something until we get pissed off, and then we'll do something about," Hunt said. "I think we're finally reaching that point with meth."That's the difference, I think, with 'American Meth,'" he added. "People leave the theater with an ambition to do something, and they may not even know what that something is, but they want to do something, and it does create hope."
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