“Shooting Heroin” is a film from writer/director/producer/editor Spencer T. Folmar of Clearfield, Pennsylvania. It has a vigilante justice approach to solving the problem of young people shooting heroin and overdosing in this remote area right in the middle of the state of Pennsylvania, where 10 teenagers a day were dying of the opioid epidemic in 2018.
Folmar, a Clearfield native, had a personal stake in the film, which was shot in Pennsylvania communities with names like Clearfield, Altoona and Morrisdale. As Folmar said during a video Red Carpet held on Zoom, “This film is very personal. The area, itself, is like a character. We were trying to show the natural beauty and the grittiness of the area.”
At one point during the virtual Red Carpet, Folmar said, “This was the first narrative feature film on the subject.” This surprised me, since, the year the plans for this began (2018) was a banner year for films that dealt with the opioid epidemic in America.
There was “Beautiful Boy” with Timothy Chalamet and Steve Carell and “Ben Is Back” with Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts (directed by Lucas’ father Peter Hedges). Both screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. “Beautiful Boy” was based on the father/son books by Nic and David Sheff and helmed by Felix van Groenegen of Belgium. Timothy Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe award and a Screen Actors’ Guild award. It seemed that every other movie at the festival in 2018 was about drug addiction.
The description for “Shooting Heroin” is: A small town community comes together to eradicate the heroin epidemic from its midst by whatever means necessary.
The cast included such veterans as Sherilynn Fenn (“Twin Peaks”) as Hazel, Cathy Moriarty (“Raging Bull,” “Neighbors”) as Beth and Nick Turturro (“Hill Street Blues”) although I was unfamiliar with the lead, Alan Powell. Garry Pastore (“The Deuce”), who played Lieutenant Jerry Whelan, won an acting award from Hells Kitchen Film Awards. The film won the Award of Excellence at IndieFest 2020.
“Shooting Heroin” is currently screening on Vudu, iTunes, Microsoft, Comcast, Verizon and Amazon and, for a 90-minute film that was shot in 12 days in middle to late October on a shoestring budget in the middle of Pennsylvania, it had nice moments and was enjoyable. Music by Mike Newport was good and cinematography by John Honore did a good job of putting the Pennsylvania countryside on display.
The cast contained many of Folmar’s relatives. The pharmacist with the long blonde hair? Leesa Folmar. Little Phil—a darling blonde child of about two— actually Spencer Folmar’s nephew. Little Phil was such a good actor that, by the end of the shoot, he was holding out his arms for his onscreen Daddy (Alan Powell) and calling him “Daddy” (while his real father was in the next room).
I also learned that all-terrain vehicles really ARE that popular in Pennsylvania and that the house they burn down in the film had to be built in three days so it could be burned down, (after plans for the fire department to incinerate an old one already standing fell through).
I had never participated in a Zoom virtual Red Carpet. It was just as technically challenging as I feared it might be, for the likes of me. I finally succeeded in joining the merry band of about 5 cast members and 5 critics (some of whom had not yet seen the film).
Nick Turturro (who plays a priest in the film) said, with wonderment, when asked about filming on location, “It’s a very different experience when you shoot outside of L.A. It was very personal. You put me at your parents’ house! I got to meet your parents!” Turturro mentioned that the cast arrived 2 days before the 12-day shoot.
There was also some conversation about Turturro’s collection of major league baseball jerseys, hanging on a rack behind him. (You don’t get that on the REAL Red Carpet!) At one point, Sherilynn Fenn’s daughter entered what appeared to be her bedroom to ask Mom a question while Sherilynn was stationed there to answer questions. Lead Alan Powell defended his leaving Little Phil in the car seat of his car outside in the Pennsylvania cold by explaining that he had five children, himself. (Not sure that was a convincing argument, but whatever…).
I sent my questions on to the publicist, which were as follows:
1) In one scene Adam (Alan Powell) goes to pick his son up from his drug-addicted sister Cheyenne, who is (supposedly) babysitting. They argue. Adam (Alan) walks out of the house with the small child. Then Adam comes back in the house and argues with the sister for a while. WHO IS WATCHING THE LITTLE BOY DURING THE ARGUMENT? It looks cold in Pennsylvania in all scenes. (You can see people’s breath in the scenes with Cathy Moriarty as his mother Beth and Alan Powell as Adam). Where is the little boy during the argument? Surely not in the car, alone?
2) During the comraderie scenes between Adam and Lt. Jerry Whelan (Garry Pastore of “The Deuce”—who was excellent in his role), do these two ever call an Uber? They’re out drinking and apparently driving from bar to bar. While we were never shown either of the two actually driving a vehicle, one of them is a police officer and I’m thinking they need to either call a cab or a Lyft or an Uber. Later, the Lieutenant is awakened from sleep within the actual police station and he definitely looks the worse for wear. Between the non-stop smoking (Cathy Moriarty and Adam Powell smoke non-stop) and the drunk driving, I’m worried for the citizens of Whispering Pines.
3) The Volunteer Drug Force: [Yikes! ] Vigilante Justice half the time; confusing billboards the other half (rectified after remarks by one of the trio, Edward, to Hazel.) [I actually did not know who “Hazel” was until after Hazel was dead. I tried to remember if her name was used and I just missed it—-possibly in the gymnasium sequence when she is addressing the students? I was very confused by Edward during most of the film.]
4) Whispering Pines. Spent a portion of the time wondering if “Whispering Pines” was the name of the television series town where Toby Jones was the evil Dr. Jenkins. (A: Wayward Pines). However, there WAS a 2018 movie called “Whispering Pines.” Noticed that the side of one police car said “Police” at the bottom of the door, but no name of a city. Later, many cities are in the credits (Altoona, Morrisdale, Clearfield, et. al.) Wondered why the writer/director didn’t just go with “Clearfield” or one of the other “real” towns?
5) Was confused about the emphasis on All Terrain vehicles. Must be a big thing in Pennsylvania. Thought the odds of “Adam” running down a kid on an ATV vehicle in a jazzy mask and having him be the actual kid transporting drugs (kind of a conspicuous outfit for it, don’t you think?) was odd. Found Adam’s behavior at different points (in the cave, during the stopping of the youth with drugs), to be almost bi-polar. (He threatened to KILL the young drug dealer. Yikes! Pretty split personality in the cave scene.)
6) Was confused about the African American guy’s motives and behavior(s).(Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)
7) Does vigilante justice in burning down the house seem reasonable? Cinematic, yes, but there didn’t seem to be enough evidence that this house and this individual were definitely proven to be guilty.
Some of these questions were addressed during the Zoom Red Carpet; some were not.
See it for yourself while you’re sheltering at home and enjoy this earnest effort. Cathy Moriarty is great. Garry Pastore and Alan Powell were believable. (Parrish told Powell that it was “a privilege to be in a film with you” and asked him “Did you expect the outcome to be so brilliant?”) Feel free to let me know if you figure out the answers to my questions above.