What was your starting point for Union County?
I was visiting my family in Ohio in 2017, and my uncle gave me a book called “Dreamland” by Sam Quinones. It’s a pretty remarkable piece of journalism charting the history of the opioid crisis in America, and it focuses a lot on central and southern Ohio where both sides of my family are from. I had been feeling a strong desire to put my home state of Ohio on screen — both its physical and socioeconomic landscapes —and I became really interested in the subjective experience of a young man around my age wrestling with this particular sort of addiction and recovery. So I began meeting different people in Union County who are associated with the issue — active users, people in recovery, parents who had lost children to overdoses, drug task force officers, lawyers, support groups, etc. I asked each person I met with if they could identify an aspect of their experience that they felt was ignored or underrepresented by the media, and I was surprised to find there was a nearly unanimous response: recovery. I realized there was a counter-mythology right in front of me — that despite the overdose statistics and stigmas dominating today’s headlines, people were and are getting better, and I felt that there was great power in illuminating that narrative. Right around this time, I began sitting in on drug court recovery meetings, and met a young man my age who told me he was living in his car just outside town, and that the hardest part of his recovery journey was having to say goodbye to his ex-girlfriend. His story resonated with me, and I started writing from that place.
Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?
My favorite moment is the drug court scene. A primary intention of mine in making the film was to capture the feeling of that specific drug court in Bellefontaine, Ohio — a place I’d spent significant time during my research and become quite fond of. In order to do so, we integrated our lead actor into an active drug court meeting and threw out the script, and let the local Judge (whose voice you hear offscreen) lead the meeting the way he always does. The other folks speaking in the scene were also members of the drug court at the time. It still moves me so much to see them sharing their stories openly and supporting each other. I think the compassion in that room comes through.
What do you like about the short form?
I think it’s something to do with economy and distillation. The opportunity to distill something into a handful of images while retaining (or maximizing) its power — it’s so difficult, but it gives me so much satisfaction when I feel like I get within at least an approximation of my emotional target.