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‘Recovery Boys:’ Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s Raw Exploration of Addiction

"It's a depiction that is both honest and loving—something that as a native of West Virginia I believe we need right now."

The Netflix documentary Recovery Boys, explains director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, is an “exploration of four men’s journeys, from rehab to re-entry, as they attempt to get and stay clean in rural America.

“It’s a depiction that is both honest and loving—something that as a native of West Virginia I believe we need right now. We must first sit and learn from those struggling before we can actually help them.”

“Sheldon captures the recovery process of being addicted to heroin, painkillers and the like by documenting the expected 12-step program and emotionally charged meetings with loved ones. It’s all here and it’s life-affirming,” writes Brigid K. Presecky.

“The raw, moving compilation of stories are full of troubled family histories, parental shortcomings, relapses and painstaking attempts at recovery. What could have been a minutes-long feature on a morning news show is rightfully drawn out, making for a powerful watch, not only for those who have experienced the effects of drug use, but even for those who know little.” To read the full article, click here.

The young men try to let go of painful pasts as they try to live in the present, and build a new community in a farming-based rehab. Sheldon says, “I sought to provide a raw and verité experience that reveals the internal roots of pain, and shines light on the external hurdles of an unforgiving society.”

“Our relationship grew over the six months [of production],” Sheldon tells Michon Boston. “Some days we’d show up, and they’d say they were really excited to see us. It was like having your friends around. There were moments when we would put the cameras down and meditate with them. Or maybe we would put the cameras down and work on the farm with them. I can’t really explain why I did that. I wanted to do it. The most important moments were when the camera was down, and we were showing up day after day.” To read the full interview, click here.

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“I think that the men in this film show a range of emotion and vulnerability that’s typically not expected or encouraged in Western society, and that’s a real eye opener,” Sheldon tells Jake Zuckermen. “In rehab, you have to be pretty raw and emotionally open to get help. We were able to just, sort of, be bystanders to that emotion and document it. I think it challenges conceptions of masculinity and what makes an American male a male and allows us to have a bigger conversation about healing and what that looks like as a man.” 

“I think it’s a very hot topic of who represents Appalachia and whose voices get heard,” she said. “I don’t have any false beliefs that this is a film for everyone. I think this is going to be a powerful film for families that need healing; it’s going to be a powerful film for people who are in recovery themselves.” To read the full article, click here.

“I [made] this work for those whom society has given up and those who are still fighting. I [made] this work to increase awareness and empathy, because the stigma and shame still remains present in society,” Sheldon concludes. “I [made] this film not to victimize, pity or make excuses for individuals, but to uplift the stories of people who are actively trying to make change, no matter how big or small.”

Read more: Where Are The Recovery Boys Now? Netflix’s New Documentary Explores Life After Rehab

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Read more: On Netflix, Recovery Boys Humanizes The Opioid Epidemic