I worked as Shooting Director on this Documentary for Boomtown festival about their approach to reducing drug related deaths. I also wrote the below blog post for their website to accompany the film.
I was pleased when Clockwise hired me to shoot and direct this ‘harm reduction’ documentary as it sounded like a meaningful project and a great concept developed in house. I know Boomtown well having spent my younger years filming the stages so I’m well versed in the art of filming at a music festival. Boomtown is kind of like a Clockwise training ground. Most freelancers have put a stint in, learning how to balance working in a hectic shooting environment with also enjoying what is undoubtedly one of the UK’s most visually impressive and immersive festivals. Now demanding a 30 strong film crew to cover the acts for the highly anticipated annual Aftermovie. The acts get bigger every year as do the crowds.
With more young people opting for festival experiences every summer it comes as no surprise that every aspect of festival culture also becomes more prevalent, and people like to party at festivals. This is where we come to recreational drug taking. Wherever you stand on the subject there’s no denying that people like to take drugs at festivals. We’re not talking your hardcore street drugs like smack and crack which are largely part of addictive cycles and remedies for past trauma. We’re talking experience enhancing, occasional drug use, similar to the way people use alcohol. Psychadelics, stimulants or whatever it may be – people of all ages like to use drugs for recreational purposes, especially if they are attending a music event & this comes with its problems. We only need to cast our minds back to the closing of iconic nightclub Fabric after 2 drug related deaths last year to realise the severity of the situation and the huge responsibility placed on venue owners and event organisers. Thankfully Fabric re opened but not without airport style security and vigorous search policies and a stringent zero tolerance policy. It seems the only approach society is willing to accept in these scenarios is toughness, intolerance and criminality, keen for someone to blame for every drug death which is understandable to a certain extent when you consider the loss of a young life. Regrettably it seems over the past few years this approach simply hasn’t been working as drug related deaths are currently at their highest on record. We need a brave new approach to look into this situation in more detail – what’s causing these deaths? Why are people taking more and stronger drugs than they can manage and why are people taking lethal combinations? Step up the Loop – a non profit drugs testing and advice agency.
Boomtown has had its fair share of drug related deaths unfortunately and its something that bears a heavy weight on the event organisers. So much so that they’ve put an incredible amount of time and energy into prevention in recent years. In particular this culminated in a variety of welfare and harm reduction services including the Loop’s drug testing facility. The term ‘harm reduction’ may be new to you. It basically means accepting that despite rigorous searches on entrance to the festivals, the organisers acknowledge that some drugs will make their way on to the site and people will take them. Therefore they want to provide as many services as possible to educate and make their experiences as safe as possible, by either going to get their drugs tested or seeking advice on the safest ways to take them. People may be mis-sold certain drugs, they may be sold a particularly strong batch and not be aware of that, they may also not know which combinations of drugs and alcohol could potentially be lethal. Unfortunately in the past these have been the very factors which have caused deaths, particularly in 2013 when Eleanor Rowe 18, from Glastonbury died at the Boomtown as a result of taking Ketamine and alcohol.
With staggering amounts of courage Eleanor’s mother returned to Boomtown this year with her other daughters to give a talk about Ellie and her passing, with hopes of raising awareness around drug taking. This formed part of our documentary as we filmed her talk and interviewed the whole family. Never before have I met such a lovely and incredibly brave family who channeled their grief into something so positive. It must have been incredibly hard to return to the scene of their family members death. Needless to say there were tears on both sides of the camera. I felt a euphoric admiration for the Rowe family but also hugely sad as I am also a father and can’t imagine such a loss. Of course you can’t look back and think what if more education could have been there, but you can look forwards and think what can we do now to mitigate the situation and make things safer for people. This year the Loop drug testing service had record numbers using it and admissions to medical were down from previous years. It seems people like the Rowe family, the Loop and the organisers of Boomtown are intrinsic to moving things forward to a safer future for all festival goers.