By Ethlie Ann Vare
North Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/9/19 – Twenty-five years ago, Leonard Buschel couldn’t leave the house without a bottle of vodka, a dozen joints, half a dozen Valium, and a handful of psychedelic mushrooms “in case I met a hippie.” Today, he’s clean and sober and the Program Director of the REEL Recovery Film Festival, which brings stories like his to the screen and to the public.
Stories of addiction and recovery are inherently dramatic, traumatic and, occasionally, laugh-out-loud funny — which is why the former pot dealer/current drug and alcohol counselor along with writer/producer Robert Downey, Sr. started Writers in Treatment in 2008: to tell those stories. From Writers in Treatment sprang the REEL Recovery Film Festival, because great stories make great movies.
The 11th Annual REEL Recovery Film Festival begins Friday at the Laemmle NoHo Theatre in North Hollywood, presenting 88 films over a 7-day period, everything from a 3-minute short made in the Ukraine to a Hollywood classic. “If you’ve never seen Days of Wine and Roses in a theater,” says Buschel, “this is your chance.
“We’re excited and proud to show all these movies to people, movies you’re not going to see on Netflix or Amazon,” says Buschel. “About 20% of them are from first-time filmmakers, and we have more of the directors and producers here this year than ever before. It will be a very interactive experience.”
Not only will actors, writers and directors be doing Q&A’s after the screenings, there will also be drug and alcohol counselors available to answer questions. “We do have trigger warnings on films that show active drug use, to protect people who are newly sober,” he notes. “There are a lot of people coming
from rehabs and recovery houses, and we never turn people away because they don’t have money for a ticket. That feeling of not being alone is important.”
Friday night, October 11, kicks off with an opening reception at The Federal and a screening of the Elton John biopic Rocketman, one of Buschel’s favorites. “It’s a Hollywood musical, an experimental movie, an opera, a family drama, and a story about how trauma can lead to addiction.” Saturday night’s
feature is Cracked Up, a documentary about the hidden trauma of longtime SNL cast member Darrell Hammond presented by its director, Michelle Esrick. The line-up, curated by Program Director Ahbra Schiff, includes films about alcoholism, sex addiction, cell phone addiction, food addiction, school bullying, body dysmorphia, compulsive gambling… but also about meditation, self-care, healing and joy.
“We have a film made on weekends by professionals donating their time, and films made by students. We have a great film about Father Gregory Boyle, called Healing Trauma. We’re also showing American Relapse, an as-it-happens documentary about two people whose legitimate desire was to pull the needles out
of people’s arms and take them to rehab. But things happen – things the filmmakers didn’t know were going to happen — that make your mouth hang open as you’re watching.”
Buschel is quick to note that the festival isn’t attempting to proselytize or promote any brand of recovery. No one holds hands and recites The Serenity Prayer after a screening. But the majority of the attendees are clean and sober, he says, and
some bring friends and family they want to introduce to recovery but wouldn’t drag along to a 12-step meeting. It’s cheaper than an intervention, after all, and considerably more entertaining.
The REEL Recovery Film Festival will be in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theater in North Hollywood October 11-17, then move to New York November 1-7 at the Village East Cinema. More information at
REEL Recovery Film Festival
October 11-17, 2019
5240 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601