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REEL Recovery Celebrates Sobriety Through Film

Delivering a powerful message that “treatment works,” the annual REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium® is a multi-day event that takes places in various cities in North America. The festival was co-founded in 2008 by Leonard Buschel and Robert Downey Sr., seeking to “shine a light” on addiction, treatment, recovery, sobriety and mental health issues through the medium of film. Both first-time and veteran filmmakers are invited to showcase their films dealing with addiction and mental health with an eye toward education, raising awareness and reducing stigma.

Called a celebration of film, the arts, and sobriety, festival producers say their goal is “to entertain, to inspire and educate the recovery community and those who serve it.” In a nod to the famous Sundance Film Festival, the unique REEL Recovery Festival has been called the “Sundance of recovery.”

The Reel Recovery Film Festival & Symposium® couldn’t be more relevant today. A 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 21 million Americans age 12 and over needed treatment for a substance use disorder, while less than 4 million were receiving treatment. And 2017 numbers from SAMHSA underscore the frequency of co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. Their statistics show that of the more than 5 million youth and young people with a substance use disorder, almost 50% also had a mental illness. Educating the public and destigmatizing treatment can save countless lives.
Writers in Treatment

The founder and producer of REEL Recovery, Leonard Buschel, is a California Certified Substance Abuse Counselor who works with those struggling with addiction. His organization, Writers in Treatment (WIT), works to “bring recovery out of the closet now and forever.” WIT promotes treatment “as the best first step solution for addiction, alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors.”

Buschel himself has been in recovery for many years, crediting his sobriety to regular attendance at a 12-step program and therapy. After he had been sober for a decade, Buschel went back to school to become a substance abuse counselor.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Buschel explains that he and co-founder Robert Downey Sr. wanted to produce a cultural event that celebrates recovery and reduces the stigma associated with dependence and addiction. The two men wanted the films chosen for the festival to depict “the numerous faces of addiction,” always with an eye to recovery.

Buschel says he modeled WIT after the Musician’s Assistance Program, an effort founded by his friend Buddy Arnold for musicians with substance use disorders. Wanting a similar program for writers and other creative people, he and co-founder Downey Sr. created WIT to help those with substance abuse, addiction and mental health challenges.

In addition to co-producing REEL Recovery, Buschel is also the editor and publisher of the weekly Addiction/Recovery eBulletin® and produces the annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards® in Los Angeles. The Awards event honors those in entertainment who courageously share their journey from addiction to recovery.

WIT not only provides resources for those addicted to alcohol or drugs but also offers help for individuals with eating disorders, gambling addiction or sex addiction, as well as information for family support.

2019 REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium®

The 2019 editions of the REEL Recovery Film Festival are taking place in New York, Denver, and Los Angeles. Each Festival runs for 7 days, showcasing “honest” films about addiction and mental illness.

As the festival’s acclaim has spread, more than 30,000 people have viewed more than 50 films at the events. The festival audience is diverse and often includes people in recovery, as well as treatment professionals and members of the entertainment industry. The 2019 festival is truly global, screening movies from Spain, Ukraine, Qatar, and France among others.

Films can be any length and format, including music videos. Before any film is accepted into the festival, it is first vetted by WIT board members. WIT looks for films that explore drug use, alcoholism, mental health challenges and recovery across a wide range of cultural backgrounds, points of view and diverse opinions. Organizers hope “the realistic portrayal of these issues in cinema can be a catalyst for honest conversation and personal transformation.” Buschel and his co-producers look for films that are entertaining and inspiring without being “preachy.”

2016 Florida Festival

In 2016, a Florida edition of the REEL Recovery Film Festival, co-produced by WIT and the InTheRooms Foundation, took place in Ft. Lauderdale. Working to de-stigmatize alcoholism and addiction, the InTheRooms Foundation provides education, raises awareness and promotes recovery through treatment. They offer live online video support groups for AA and NA groups, with a “global online community” of more than 500,000 members.

As Buschel says in his Huffington Post interview, “When someone decides that their life is greatly improved by not drinking or taking other intoxicants, they don’t lose their artistic sensibilities. We keep our intellect and we keep our cultural interests…we take what we learn…into the world. It is a bridge to a new life.”

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.