Home #Hwoodtimes Hollywood Sobers Up at the REEL Recovery Film Festival

Hollywood Sobers Up at the REEL Recovery Film Festival

Leonard Buschel & Ahbra Schiff

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
Laemmle NoHo
5240 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601



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Valerie Milano is the well-connected Senior Editor and Entertainment Critic at, a website that aggregates showbiz news curated for, and written by, insiders of the entertainment industry. (@HwoodTimes @TheHollywood.Times) Milano, whose extraordinary talents for networking in the famously tight-clad enclave of Hollywood have placed her at the center of the industry’s top red carpets and events since 1984, heads daily operations of a uniquely accessible, yet carefully targeted publication. For years, Milano sat on the board and tour coordinator of the Television Critics Association’s press tours. She has written for Communications Daily, Discover Hollywood, Hollywood Today, Television International, and Video Age International, and contributed to countless other magazines and digests. Valerie works closely with the Human Rights Campaign as a distinguished Fed Club Council Member. She also works with GLSEN, GLAAD, Outfest, NCLR, LAMBDA Legal, and DAP Health, in addition to donating both time and finances to high-profile nonprofits. She has been a member of the Los Angeles Press Club for a couple of years and looks forward to the possibility of contributing to the future success of its endeavors. Milano’s passion for meeting people extends from Los Feliz to her favorite getaway, Palm Springs. There, she is a member of the Palm Springs Museum of Art and a prominent Old Las Palmas-area patron.