Director Anwar Jamison Tackles Prescription Drug Abuse in A Bitter Pill To Swallow at Indie Memphis


Anwar Jamison grew up in Racine, Wisconsin. he thought he knew everything about drugs. “We were an hour from Chicago, so everything Chicago had, we had. I saw a lot of crack cocaine,” he says. “People smoke, they drink, they do hard drugs. You knew what that was.”
Anwar Jamison, director of A Bitter Pill To Swallow.
  • Anwar Jamison, director of A Bitter Pill To Swallow.
What he didn’t see coming was the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse—until it affected his own family. At first, he heard one of his young adult cousins had been caught stealing. “That blew my mind. I had only ever associated that behavior with someone who smokes crack,” he says. “Then it was another family member, and another. Then I heard, ‘It’s because of those pills.’ I started doing my own research, and it scared me.”

Warning poeple—particularly college and high school kids he taught at Arkansas State University Mid-South—became something of an obsession for the filmmaker, whose previous work Five Steps To A Conversation appeared at Indie Memphis. “Every time I would talk to a class about it, you could see the guilt come across a couple of faces. ‘It’s that serious?’ Young people think, a doctor proscribed this. How can it be bad?”
One of an artist’s greatest assets is the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes. “If I was sixteen, seventeen, and all my friends were doing it, and all my favorite rap artists were talking about it, I don’t know that I wouldn’t start popping pills, too,” he says.

Jamison decided to use his gifts to spread the news of prescription drug abuse. A Bitter Pill To Swallow would be his first documentary. He interviewed addiction doctors, addicts, and the families of overdose victims. On a whim, he decided to take his camera to Beale Street and ask people what they knew about the topic. To his shock, the very first person he picked had been in rehab, and had lost custody of his children as a result of prescription drug abuse.“Opiods are a hot button topic on the news right now, but that’s only one group. There opiods, benzos, and the stimulants. I run across a lot more Xanax, and I don’t hear anything about that. I’ve seen the affects on people over time on people in my family. I’ve seen the star student who you would hold up as an example turn into someone who you would have thought he had a learning disability. It erodes people’s minds over time.”

The film professor says he learned a lot from his first documentary experience. “With narrative, it was already hard to edit your own stuff. You like almost everything you did! Then when you come back two or three months later with fresh eyes, you see what you can cut. Why was I thinking I couldn’t do without that? But with documentary, it was like, wow. all of these hours! This is crazy! You have HOURS of interviews with people. There’s all this great stuff. And I have to put all of this into a little more than an hour? I learned to really be selective. I didn’t agonize over it as much as I thought I would.”

A Bitter Pill To Swallow debuts at Indie Memphis on Sunday, November 5 at 9:20 PM. For more information and tickets, go to the Indie Memphis website.

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