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A positive outlook on growing heroin epidemic

By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer

COURTESEY PHOTO Filmmaker Michael Venn is depicted talking about his documentary. Venn hopes viewers will see the film in a more positive light.
Filmmaker Michael Venn is depicted talking about his documentary. Venn hopes viewers will see the film in a positive light.

An average day for filmmaker Michael Venn goes something like this: answering phone calls and emails, and possibly shooting some footage for his latest film centered around the controversial topic of heroin.

Temporarily titled “Community > Heroin,” the film is designed to explore all aspects of heroin use, from people in recovery and their families to “people on the law end and the legal side,” according to Venn.

“I want it to be a positive story as far as hope and redemption,” Venn, a Portsmouth resident, said. “[It will show] people getting through it and the community being aware of how they look at things and how they treat things … just even the way people talk about.”

The idea came to Venn in early December during a morning trip for coffee with his 10-year-old son. All of the headlines he saw dealt with heroin.

This concerned and compelled him.

“I think I started it for a really selfish reason,” Venn said. “This is my community, I live here. This is really impacting everything; it’s all over the place. I have a 10-year-old son and I don’t want him growing up in this type of environment.”

Venn’s main goal for this film is to change the conversation around heroin use and how it is handled.

Venn — who has shot a number of other documentaries and music videos — didn’t always see himself playing this role as a director, producer and writer.

Venn graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1996 as a dual major in psychology and communication. He loved helping people and seeing how they worked, but said he never really saw himself being a filmmaker at first.

“I didn’t go to film school … but just at some point, through a lot of friends that I had, got into film and realized that it was definitely something I wanted to do,” Venn said.

Having stumbled upon the film community, he said that the best way to figure out how to make the best film possible is to just “learn by doing,” Venn said.

He often has a cinematographer work with him on his stories, but Venn recently bought a Canon DSLR and his phone also has the ability to shoot some scenes.

Venn, however, is not the first one to look at the issue of heroin from a media perspective.

In February 2014, WMUR issued a broadcast saying that heroin use and overdoses had reached an epidemic level.

In November 2014, the Portsmouth Herald ran a Sunday story detailing the heroin problem in Portsmouth, “Heroin epidemic hits hard in Portsmouth.” According to the article there have been 43 cases in which first responders had to give an individual Narcan, which reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.

“Even though there are limited resources in the state, I do believe it is a community problem,” Justin Looser, the director of behavioral health at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, said in the article. “We have to first take away the shame so people can reach out for help without the guilt and shame.”

The article also told of five deaths that occurred due to heroin from the beginning of October until the middle of November, all of whom lived on the Seacoast and many of whom were in their 30s or older.

Both reports seemed to have a message similar to Venn’s.

Venn hopes to have a “viewable edit” of the film done by the end of the year, but said he will take all the time that he needs.

“It’s not like you write a script, and you have a shooting schedule, and you’re going to be at this location for three days, and then you’re going to be here for three days,” Venn said. “There isn’t that … This is going to go on until this story tells itself, until I’m at a point where I’m happy.”

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