Recovery and Addiction in Film: In Conversation with Craig Meinhart
By: Darida Rose
Craig Meinhart is a first time filmmaker from the USA. His first short film, “Into Dust” looks at the world of drug addiction, recovery, and relapse. The dark drama centres around a meeting between a drug user in relapse, meeting up with his sister to share with her his traumatic experiences. The film is a wonderful representation of what it’s like to experience relapse, and how difficult it is for drug abusers to recover, live in clarity, and find emotional sobriety.
The film was a semi-finalist at the Cyrus International Festival of Toronto in September of 2020, a semi-finalist at the Indie Short Fest, and won Best First Time Director at the Hollywood Blood Horror Festival. Craig Meinhart chats with us to tell us more about his journey into the world of cinema, and the making of Into Dust.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): Can you please share with us your journey into the world of filmmaking and perhaps tell us more about yourself?
Craig Meinhart (CM): My intro into the film world has been a long, slow burn that’s been simmering since I was a freshman in college. I took a screenwriting class to learn the fundamentals, then took an additional film appreciation course to get some theory, but that’s the limit of my formal training. The rest I taught myself by reading scripts and books about screenwriting, and writing both fiction and screenplays. For a long time I’ve been busy writing and publishing short stories, running a podcast, and performing music in a heavy metal band, as well as working a regular job to pay the bills. I’ve always wanted to make my own movie, but never thought I had the time to do it. It was because of an interview I did with a first time filmmaker named Bradley Harding that I got the motivation to do a short. He explained that in film festivals that the ideal length for a short (in his opinion) was ten to fifteen minutes. A light went off in my head and I thought that was something I could pull off in a short amount of time and for a small budget. So I quickly wrote out a script and got to work in putting together a crew of people I knew that could help bring it to life. I’d already been making music videos and doing photography, so I had a working knowledge of what needed to be done, and it helped tremendously that the crew was more experienced than I was.
(PJ): What an absolutely telling tale of recovery and relapse. The details that have to do with recovery are very accurate. The notion of faith as a pillar to those in the journey of recovery is a highlight in Gus’ story. Where did this knowledge of drug abuse, recovery, and relapse come to you? And how did it manifest to become the film?
(CM): I had written a short story years ago that was never able to find a publisher that dealt with a mysterious new drug that opened a barrier to a very personal hell. I had that in the back of my mind when I was trying to think of a story I could tell in a short period of time that would have immediacy and resonance. I wanted to tell a horror tale, but not in a traditional manner, so I reworked one element of the story and turned it into something new. I don’t have direct experience with addiction or recovery, for me it was more of a metaphor for the pain and suffering I witnessed a dear family member go through in struggling with daily pain from a crippling injury. Seeing that up close left a deep impression on me.
(PJ): Gus’s character deals with many intricate details that those who have suffered or are suffering from addiction can relate to, i.e paranoia, nightmares/dreams, obsessive memories and intrusive thoughts. Can you take us through how you were able to get so much through in so little time?
(CM): The story came to me in a flash and I wrote the script by hand while at work one day. The themes of paranoia and hellish inner worlds were the keys to unlocking the horror I was trying to convey. To me it was a monster story, just with a different kind of monster. I envisioned the short as a complete scene within a much larger framework, and wrote out a full mythology of the drug DUST and the mysterious DUST DEALERS, as well as full backstories for the characters. This enabled me to boil everything down to an essence that hopefully lands a solid punch. I wanted it to be memorable.
(PJ): Can you tell us about your thoughts about art and addiction/recovery?
(CM): To me art is storytelling with many faces. It could be poetry, dance, music, or filmmaking. And the best storytelling deals with primal issues like sex and death. Addiction/recovery is a clear metaphor for heaven and hell and lends itself to those associations because addiction truly is hell, and not just for those experiencing it but also their friends and loved ones. The collateral damage is immense. And it can be a bottomless pit for those trapped in a downward spiral.
(PJ): Having been recognized with the film’s positive reception, do you intend to make more films?
(CM): Absolutely. During the pandemic lockdown I wrote two other shorts and I’m currently finishing a full length screenplay that I intend to shoot as soon as possible. Seeing that I’ve been able to steer a project from start to finish and have it perform well has galvanized me into making a full plunge into movie making. I’d very much like to leave my mark.
(PJ): Do you have any recommendations about films centered on addiction and recovery?
(CM): I think horror movies are good at conveying the horrors of addiction, but doing so in metaphoric ways. I thought the EVIL DEAD remake was a good recent example of this. And one of my favorites is ANGEL HEART with Mickey Rourke. It doesn’t deal with addiction per se, but is more about the quest for finding yourself, and how you can’t hide from yourself forever. And that to me is a very apt understanding of the ins and outs of all kinds of addictions.
(PJ): Thank you for taking this time to chat with us and for making this film. The film searches for a certain truth, and we hope to see more work coming from your end. Is there anything you’d like to tell young filmmakers or artists who may be dealing with addiction and recovery?
(CM): I’m not qualified to give anyone advice, I’m still trying to find my own way. All I can say is I’d rather see your art than for it to get swallowed whole by your demons. Make your demons work for you.