Our American Family

Drugs and addiction have been a problem all over the world, but in the United States, it seems of late to have gotten even worse with a sort of opioid crisis. Many filmmakers have used addiction as the focal point of their dramas, series or documentaries. Here is a documentary, co-directed by Hallee Adelman (first film) and Sean King O’Grady (Land Grab, We Need to Do Something), that addresses the issue from a slightly different angle.

Families. Addiction and drugs do not only affect the addict or user but the entire family. Every member is affected negatively in some way. In Our American Family, we get a clear picture of that. How each member is affected differently. The level of access and unfiltered honesty we get from the Caltabiano family is not typical. Meaning this Philadelphia middle-class family allows us into their daily lives warts and all.

The Caltabianos are a family with generational substance abuse issues. Several of the kids have been/are addicts. We follow the family over the course of a year as the daughter is once again going through rehab and then moving on to living on her own. While mother Linda deals with the stress of this while raising her daughter Nicole’s young daughter. Linda’s whole life has been a cycle of addiction, overdose and attempted recovery as it is revealed that her mother was also an addict. Her children Chris and Nicole are both addicts.

Timely as September is National Recovery month in the U.S., while hard to watch at times, the doc is essential viewing. A typical element of this type of documentary is the voyeur aspect. You feel, at times, that you are intruding on things you should not be. Push past that uncomfortable feeling to really take in what the family (and many others, I am sure) are going through. A strong point here is that the co-directors manage to not judge any of their subjects. That is essential in order to really be able to fully absorb the issues and emotions involved. Especially vital when it comes to the mom. As she could have been looked down on due to how she always attempts to be there for her kids, especially Nicole. She is not portrayed as an enabler, but simply a woman who has trauma due to all the effects of addiction around her for her entire life. Her strength comes shining through as most of us in a similar situation would have crumbled by now.

Be inspired by the strength shown by all the members. How, despite the anger and arguments that happen, they remain strong as a family unit in order to have a chance to get through this.

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