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Narcotics addiction has become the scourge of American society as well as a global crisis. And this year, the subject has proved irresistible for talent and financiers at the Toronto International Film Festival.
No fewer than six films screening at the festival feature drug abuse themes, including Sam Taylor-Johnson’s A Million Little Pieces (crack cocaine), the Timothee Chalamet starrer Beautiful Boy (crystal meth) and the Lucas Hedges-led Ben Is Back (opioids). Actress Bel Powley delivers a harrowing performance in White Boy Rick as a young woman kicking crack addiction. And Natalie Portman and Elisabeth Moss play singers with substance abuse issues in Vox Lux and Her Smell, respectively.
The question is whether buyers will be looking for a fix as well. A Million Little Pieces, Vox Lux and Her Smell are all being shopped, with domestic rights available for all three. Both Vox Lux and Her Smell already have debuted, with the former expected to sell quickly. A Million Little Pieces, based on James Frey’s controversial 2003 best-seller about his recovery from crack addiction, will make its world premiere Monday at TIFF. Given that the book was first set up at a major studio (Warner Bros.), it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the film lands back at a major.
But why are so many filmmakers finally catching up this year with an issue that has dominated headlines for years?
“It happens,” says Black Bear Pictures’ Teddy Schwarzman, who produced and financed Ben Is Back, of the sudden convergence of addiction-themed movies. “I think frankly it’s nothing but a good thing to be raising awareness. From what I hear, they are all very different in what they’re doing. But hopefully they all serve to focus people on a really important narrative, which is how much the opioid crisis is ripping families apart.”
Drug addiction films have sprung forth in the past, from Half Nelson to Requiem for a Dream to Trainspotting (all three of those films yielded Oscar nominations to boot). But usually they are separated by years, not days, as it is at TIFF this year.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that the film world has caught up with the real world, where the opioid crisis has become epidemic. Hollywood has not been immune, with a number of high-profile overdose deaths and near-deaths in recent years, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Prince and Demi Lovato. Just this week, MTV reality star and rapper Mac Miller died of an overdose at age 26.
“Whether intended or not, we tend to see themes in indie films and at festivals in general that mirror current, topical issues,” says acquisitions executive Kristin Harris, who buys for indie upstart Good Deed Entertainment. “And like it or not, addiction has been at the forefront of a lot of conversations lately, and I’m honestly glad it’s becoming a larger, more accepted theme in films.”
This story also appears in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 9 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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