KINGSTON, R.I. —“It’s not too late to start over.”
This is a key line and the overlying message of “Junkie,” a short film written and set to be directed by University of Rhode Island junior Alyssa Botelho, the first serious film project for the Film/Media and Business Management double major from Fairhaven, Massachusetts that’s being shot on both sides of the state line.
The film is produced by fellow URI Film/Media students Olivia Carle and Elizabeth Piotrowski.
“Junkie” tells the story of Whitty, a young man struggling with drug addiction and being estranged from his family who, at his breaking point, makes a life-changing connection with Officer Stewart, a police officer with a high regard for the motto of “protect and serve.”
The story is partially based on true events, according to Botelho, who heard a story from a family member in law enforcement about a connection he had made with a man struggling with drug addiction that he had arrested and brought into the ER.
“He told me this whole story and I just thought that it would make a really good film,” Botelho said. “I thought it would be visually so exciting, but also thematically and story-wise I think it could be really powerful because it shows how someone who is on the complete other side of life as a police officer on the straight-and-narrow can make this connection with someone who is on the other side as a drug addict and a criminal.”
With “Junkie,” Botelho hopes to convey a message of hope for those dealing with addiction as well as fight stigmas about both addicts and police officers and the power of human connection.
“I really hope that it’s something that people who are struggling can see and then they can take inspiration from it and move towards recovery,” Botelho said. “I hope that people can see that there is a stigma against people with drug addictions and sometimes now with law enforcement in today’s climate I hope that this is something that shows people that no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you can make a connection with another person.”
She said that often times people suffering with drug addiction may think that the police are the “enemy” who are out to get them, while there are also police officers who may think people battling addiction are hopeless and “complete wastes of life,” and that society as a whole can often fall for both stigmas.
In “Junkie,” this difference is represented by Whitty and Officer Stewart, who are symbolic of the ability to make these life-changing connections and still have hope, as compared to the more cynical characters of Rex, Whitty’s run-down best friend and worst influence, and Russel, a police officer who can’t stand “junkies” and sees no hope for them.
Often times, both try to avoid each other as much as possible, and Botelho says in those moments where they’re forced to interact, some life-changing connections can be made, as it did in the story she based “Junkie” around, which is something she feels will connect with audiences.
“I think it’ll connect with a lot of people because it’s based on a true event and it gave me something huge to jump off of,” Botelho said. “A lot of the film is completely fictional, but at the heart of it is the true event and I think it made it easy for me to come up with this story that a lot of people will relate to.”
Botelho has worked on short films, commercials, PSAs and wedding videos since she was in high school and works for Fairhaven’s local public access channel while back home, and some of her co-workers from home are involved in the project as well as fellow URI students.
“It feels like all of these years of my work have been leading up to this moment because it’s such a powerful story and important to me and my family,” Botelho said. “It just feels so exciting to have this crew of very talented filmmakers from Rhode Island and Massachusetts to come together and make this story and this film.”
For “Junkie,” Botelho took influence from movies such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Beautiful Boy,” as well as the TV series “Breaking Bad,” saying she loved the realistic nature of their depictions of addiction and vibrant characters.
“Junkie” takes place in a town based on New Bedford, Massachusetts, a city close to Fairhaven where Botelho has spent much time over the years, and most of the exterior shots of the film are of the city.
“(The story that inspired “Junkie”) actually took place in a town right next to New Bedford, but New Bedford has more of the look and feel that I like,” Botelho said.
Other filming locations in Massachusetts include an apartment in South Dartmouth, Fairhaven Town Hall and the Mattapoisett Diner in Mattapoisett. In Rhode Island, locations include the Joseph David Big & Tall store in Warwick and Chafee Hall at URI, which serves as the site of their hospital scene.
Botelho says it was a struggle to find locations that would allow them to shoot their scenes as the crew looked all around the South Coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Eventually they found their locations and set up a three-day filming schedule between two states this Friday through Sunday.
“So we’re filming in South Dartmouth on Friday, in Rhode Island on Saturday and then Mattapoiset and Fairhaven on Sunday and me and my crew have been making shooting schedules and call shoots for everybody, so we’ve been making very detailed schedules of exactly when we’re going to do certain shots and when people need to get there and it’s been organized, a good flow, very efficient and everything,” Botelho said.
For finding her cast for “Junkie,” Botelho put out casting calls on several websites as well as Facebook, and within two days had almost 300 responses.
“From there we picked the ones that we liked based off their looks and their reels,” Botelho said. “I felt like we had a good idea of who understood the characters and who would be a good fit as far as look wise.”
Four of the actors who play main characters in “Junkie” are from New York City, including Whitty, played by Alessandro Gian Viviano, Officer Stwerat, played by Matt David, Rex, played by Emmett White and Russell, played by Robert Aloi.
Massachusetts actresses Bethany Fernandes and Claudia Negalha play a waitress and store attendant respectively.
“They’re pretty talented,” Botelho said of her cast.
As a junior at URI, Botelho says she has loved her experience with the Film/Media major and the supportive atmosphere around it.
“I looked at a bunch of different schools a few years ago and URI just really stood out to me because everyone is so friendly and it’s really focused on teamwork,” Botelho said. “There’s not an unhealthy competitive atmosphere there and I think that’s where the best stories and ideas really thrive when people can come together and work instead of competing, so it’s been a really great experience.”
The film is set to debut on campus at a URI Film/Media screening on Dec. 11 before being submitted to film festivals both nationally and internationally. It’s expected to run about 13 minutes according to Botelho.
Botelho hopes to get “Junkie” online as soon as possible, however certain film festivals she’s looking at require submitted films to be more exclusive and not readily available, so an online release date is still to be determined.
For more information and updates on “Junkie,” people can search for @JunkieShortFilm on Facebook or check out the film’s IndieGoGo page at https://igg.me/at/junkie-film.