Portland film maker Brian Lindstrom visits with enthusiastic movie-goers after the screening of his documentary "Finding Normal" in 2007.

Portland film maker Brian Lindstrom visits with enthusiastic movie-goers after the screening of his documentary

From the Oregonian editorial board member Doug Bates, April 22 2009

If you’ve never seen “Finding Normal,” the critically acclaimed documentary by Portland film maker Brian Lindstrom, I highly recommend you check it out.

And only if you’ve seen it will you fully appreciate the little story Lindstrom shared with me recently. It’s just a little slice-of-life vignette, but it illustrates a powerful ripple effect generated by arts funding — something that’s very much on the chopping block during this down economy.

Also on the chopping block, especially here in shortsighted Oregon, is state funding for drug and alcohol treatment. There’s a surprising nexus between the two subjects, as Lindstrom makes clear in the note he sent my way:

I had a chance meeting last week that hit home to me the importance of funding both arts agencies and residential drug treatment programs. I was in Old Town on my way to a planning meeting at the Community Engagement Program where I’m doing a Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC)-funded film project that has me working with “dual diagnosis” folks (people with drug addiction AND mental illness) to guide them through the process of making a film about their experiences. I bumped into Dan Winters, who was profiled in “Finding Normal” (he was the white crack addict). Dan has more than 3 years clean, and is getting married April 24. He will soon begin a new job connecting Recovery Mentor Program graduates with jobs and housing.

Dan was handpicked for this job by Ed Blackburn, executive director of Central City Concern, who got to know Dan at Q and As following screenings of “Finding Normal” at Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, Hollywood Theater, City Hall, Portland Development Commission, etc., and was very impressed with the way Dan handled himself.

Without a grant from RACC I wouldn’t have been able to make “Finding Normal.” Without “Finding Normal,” Ed wouldn’t have gotten to see Dan in action, and all the people who attended screenings wouldn’t have had a chance to see the person behind the label “addict.” And without the Recovery Mentor Program … you get the idea.

I think this chain of events is notable and demonstrates the far reach of art and the necessity of funding arts agencies and residential drug treatment centers.

I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for shining a light on this ripple effect, Brian. Meanwhile, readers can check out Shawn Levy’s review of “Finding Normal” here.

— Doug Bates, associate editor; dougbates@news.oregonian.com

The Face of Change

Brian Lindstrom’s latest project is The Face of Change, a short film highlighting the work of Central City Concern, a multifaceted nonprofit social service agency in Portland, Oregon.

As you can see, Brian’s documentary film experience makes an effective case statement for this agency, an excellent compliment to any presentation to foundations, donors, prospective board members, and government agencies.

Andrew Blubaugh, Brian Lindstrom and Lawrence Johnson

Andrew Blubaugh, Brian Lindstrom and Lawrence Johnson

The Oregon Media Arts Fellowship, established to recognize and support the work of Oregon film and video makers, announced its 2008 awards November 9 at the 35th Northwest Film & Video Festival to Portland filmmakers Brian Lindstrom (center), Andrew Blubaugh and Lawrence Johnson. Each received $5,000 Fellowships administered by the Northwest Film Center.

The Fellowship program is funded by the Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation, with additional in-kind support from The Oregon Film & Video Office and Chambers Communications.

The goal of the Media Arts Fellowship program is to support outstanding moving image artists who live in Oregon and whose work shows exceptional promise and demonstrated commitment to the media arts. A distinguished panel reviewed submissions from 35 applicants from throughout the state, weighing artistic merit, the potential of the proposed activity to advance the artist’s work, and the feasibility of the projects proposed.

Brian Lindstrom’s award includes $5,000 in cash and a suite of studio production services provided by Chambers Communications in Eugene. Brian Lindstrom’s feature-length documentary FINDING NORMAL was selected by the Oregonian as one of the top ten films of 2007. It had extended runs at local theaters and was broadcast on Oregon Public Broadcasting. Other documentaries include FROM THE GROUND UP, which won a Telly Award in 2003; IT’S AN AGE THING, a thirteen-part series on aging for WMHT in New York; and KICKING, distributed by Pyramid Media and broadcast on OPB. He holds an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting from Columbia University.

Brian will use the award to finish PAY MY WAY WITH STORIES, his documentary following participants in free writing workshops provided by Write Around Portland.

Finding Normal on OPB

Finding Normal will be shown on Oregon Lens on Oregon Public Broadcasting on August 14, 2008 at 10 PM.

From Guidepoints, June 2008 – for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association

Besides teaching the ear needling technique, NADA registered trainers work hard to help trainees “feel the lives” of the addict and alcoholic clientele they will be treating. Creating such an experience for trainees can be difficult, especially in situations where there is no access to an appropriate clinical environment where the learners can observe and participate in real treatment of real patients.

A new film could help address this need. While numerous filmmakers have tried to present addiction and recovery realistically, Brian Lindstrom actually succeeds with his Finding Normal. Field professionals who have seen the film feel that it depicts the heart of addiction medicine. The sincerity of Lindstrom’s work lies in portraying how hard is the work of recovery, both for the addict and, perhaps even more so, for those in the healer role.

The story unfolds entirely from the words and actions of the characters, who play themselves in their real life status as staff members or clients. There is no voice-over or other narrative crutch to explain or guide the viewer. But unlike many documentaries portraying nitty-gritty subjects, this film does not test the audience’s tolerance for tedium. One big city movie critic described Finding Normal as “gripping and moving” and “a terrifying, elating thrill ride”.

And anyone who has worked in chemical dependency, or gone through treatment, will realize immediately that what the people on-screen are saying and doing is exactly true to life.

The addictions field has long derived its energy and spirit from the men and women who, as staff or volunteers, bring their own journey of recovery into the work they do for those who still suffer. This film depicts the “mentor project”, an activity that has possibly gone the furthest in its application of this source of healing power.

The project grew up inside of Central City Concern (CCC), a large, multi-site housing/treatment service operating in the Portland, Oregon area. The impact of a local heroin plague several years ago demanded a new type of response from the human services system. The long-experienced CCC found the opiate-dependent patients that were flooding its detox units were not staying in treatment long enough to start recovery work.

The special project’s mentors are men and women who became CCC staff members after escaping from their own desperate careers in the addiction underworld. All have their own, personal street, drug house (and often prison) experiences. They know what those still trapped in drugs and alcohol really need to begin their own route out of bondage.

The film shows the mentors meeting new clients and remaining in close contact during the crucial early days and weeks of treatment engagement. As the clients encounter issues and begin to self-reveal, each mentor moves from the role of nurturing parent, to confrontative counselor, to listening post, to crucial source of needed services such as housing,.

That the work of a mentor feels good comes across; also that at times it can inflict major pain. Jill Kahnert, the emotional center of the film, shows the camera the mixture of stoicism, disappointment and fury stirred in her when a client does not stick with the program. One sees that such experiences add to Jill’s store of hard wisdom, yet always take a toll. Viewers see that while sharing much in common with the struggling clients, the mentors, reflecting always on their own close calls, know much more keenly that their work is all about life and death.

(CCC has long been a high-profile user of the NADA protocol, although the acupuncture service plays no role in this particular depiction of the agency’s work. A recent outside evaluator found that CCC mentor/housing program participants showed a 95% reduction in the use of illegal drugs and a 93% decline in criminal activity.)

The length of a typical feature film, Finding Normal would work to energize and enlighten those taking part in any NADA training format. While educating those new to the field about the reality of the work, the film will elicit discussion and provide the trainer with useful illustrations of various clinical situations. Trainee reactions to what they see will offer strong clues to the trainer as to which members of the class should be encouraged to go forward in the addictions field. The film may be seen at festivals and a broadcast and DVD release may be in the offing. For up to date information, contact: www.brianlindstromfilms.com

Islands of Recovery

Here’s one of the six short videos I created for Central City Concern’s new web site.

This short video uses the staff and volunteers of Central City Concern to express the importance and value of alcohol and drug free housing to an individual’s recovery.

Finding Normal will play May 12 in Vancouver at Movie Monday. Brian and several of the Central City Concern mentors will answer questions from the audience after the film via telephone.

Here’s Movie Monday’s write-up about the film.

Here’s a film that I think all of us in Victoria who are trying to find answers to the complex problems of addiction and what recovery might look like, should see.

This mentor run program has about a 70 percent success rate, often with people who have failed multiple times in recovery.”

…a thoroughly engrossing documentary by Brian Lindstrom about a group of Portland drug addicts and their rehab counselors trying day-by-day to keep themselves clean, sober and together.”

The film is raw and real, filled with undeniable moments of pain and elation and human personality. It’s impossible to imagine a more honest look at this all-too-common world….”

Special screening at City Hall, hosted by Tom Potter and Randy Leonard
March 28, 1 – 3 PM in City Hall Council Chambers

FINDING NORMAL is a powerfully honest documentary film about the Central City Concern Recovery Mentor Program, a group of Portland addicts in their day-to-day struggle to find a “normal” way of thinking and living, and the counselors who assist and mentor them.

A new survey from Portland State’s Regional Research Institute shows the Central City Concern Recovery Mentor Program has an exceptionally high rate of recovery for participants.

Results of the survey show “demonstrated profound reductions in both drug use and criminal activity” by program participants; including a 95% reduction in use of any illegal drugs.

Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program reaches out specifically to addicts with significant addiction issues, with on average 7.6 years of peak drug use.

The stats are a good argument for more dollars for drug treatment, and you might want to refer to them next time somebody suggests cutting treatment budgets or building new prisons.

What critics are saying about FINDING NORMAL

“…a thoroughly engrossing documentary by Brian Lindstrom about a group of Portland drug addicts and their rehab counselors trying day-by-day to keep themselves clean, sober and together. The film is raw and real, filled with undeniable moments of pain and elation and human personality. It’s impossible to imagine a more honest look at this all-too-common world, and it’s impossible, too, to understand how the film hasn’t gotten exposed in a bigger venue.”

Shawn Levy, film critic, The Oregonian

“Local filmmaker Brian Lindstrom is as uncompromising in his study of recovery as are the mentors who have rebuilt their lives and are now committed to helping others. What unfolds are intimate portraits of human triumph and failure…one of the finest films to come out of Portland in years.”

David Walker, film critic, Willamette Week

More about the Central City Concern Mentor Program

Astoria International Film Festival: Liberty Theatre in Astoria, Oregon.

Q and A to follow screening