Films about recovery from addiction at Cape Town festival

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

After battling with drug and alcohol addiction, a Cape Town film festival organiser started screening documentary films inspiring others to sober up.

Dougie Dudgeon, organiser of the third annual South African Recovery Film Festival, says the four-day event planned for next week in the city centre is “underpinned by a hopeful message”.

“This festival is a celebration of recovery rather than a somber affair. It would be depressing if I was still drinking and using drugs,” says Dudgeon.

Dougie Dudgeon, organiser of the third annual South African Recovery Film Festival. Picture Supplied

Dougie Dudgeon, organiser of the third annual South African Recovery Film Festival. Picture Supplied

As part of the non-profit collective While You Were Sleeping, Dudgeon regularly runs film events.

This collective is “committed to bringing progressive documentary films with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences”.

Recovery’s films will focus on “themes of addiction and mental health issues and promote the solutions and successes of recovery from these debilitating conditions”.

Its opening night film ‘A Royal Hangover’, on September 24 at the Labia cinema, examines drinking culture in the United Kingdom.

Dudgeon says this film, as the 15 others on the festival line-up, is part of “seeking ways to open up the debate”.

“It takes a look at the costs (of alcohol consumption) to individuals and society. Arguably the UK has an equally entrenched alcohol and drug problem as in South Africa,” says Dudgeon.

“After the screening we will have a moderated discussion with a guest speaker or two trying to offering a local context.

“And should any of the content help people resolve issues they might have, that would be great.”

Dudgeon adds: “The stigma that surrounds addiction, alcoholism and mental health issues often drives shame and ignorance of the conditions and not only makes access to help difficult, but provides no space to celebrate the solutions.

“It highlights solutions that exist and demonstrates through the powerful success stories of ordinary heroes that addiction can be beaten.”

Dudgeon believes addiction is overplayed while recovery should be celebrated more.

“Just as Cape Town has a big alcohol and drug addiction problem, it also has a very strong, if somewhat understated recovery community,” he says.

“It seems the city and our communities are aware of the problems, but less of the solutions.

“As a person in long-term recovery, I felt really moved to find a way to share so many positive stories and so much good information, in an accessible and enjoyable context.”

The South African College Of Applied Psychology is a festival partner.

Its chief executive Lance Katz says the festival films are “success stories of ordinary heroes (showing) that addiction can be beaten.”

“It’s a catalyst for positive change. Film is an extremely powerful edutainment medium to share the trials and tribulations of real life people who have struggled with addiction,” says Katz.

“This festival draws the spotlight on the psychosocial causes and effects of addiction and helps to destigmatise it.”

The festival, held during International Recovery Month in September, will run simultaneously in Johannesburg.

Organisers will also host the debut Cape Town Recovery Walk and The Sober & Sexy Photographic exhibition in the city.


The South African Recovery Film Festival runs at the Labia cinema on Orange Street in Gardens from September 24 to 27. Its line-up includes some of the films listed below.


A penetrating Oscar-nominated documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker (1929-1988). In-depth interviews with Baker’s friends and co-workers paint a portrait of a troubled genius, whose drug addiction and womanizing gradually eroded his talent.


This independent documentary focuses on the problem of technology addiction – a concern that has, in recent years, drawn considerable attention from media outlets, scientific research and, most significantly, parents of children and young adults who use technology for social contact and education.


Eschewing medical explanations and expert opinions, this film examines the experience of bipolar disorder through firsthand testimony from three people coping with it in varying ways.


Despite clichés that musicians are show-offs, many (regardless of talent) fear playing to an audience on stage. Symptoms can include anxiety and hyper-alertness days before, then vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, mood swings, tremors and heart palpitations on the day itself.

This film follows 10 musicians all with substance problems as they struggle to overcome their demons whilst preparing to play a very special concert.


This film takes on the global economy and human toll of the ‘war’ on cocaine. From the farmers in Bolivia who grow coca leaves as their livelihood to Ecuadorian single mothers who are drug mules out of crippling poverty to the violence of the Mexican trafficking trade where thousands die every year, the film explores the international network of violence, imprisonment, poverty, and addiction that the drug causes in it’s wake.


China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” a clinical disorder. With extraordinary intimacy, Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab center where Chinese teenagers are deprogrammed, focusing on three teens, their parents and the health professionals determined to help them kick their habit.


Ten years ago Russell Brand was addicted to heroin, his career was unraveling and he was told he may only have six months to live. The story of how he battled to stay clean of drugs is at the heart of “From Addiction To Recovery”.

The second film “End The War On Drugs” takes the debate to the international stage questioning policy makers and opinion formers, examines success stories like the “Portuguese model”, and more controversial solutions across Europe whilst continuing the thread of personal stories developed in the first documentary.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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