After graduating with a degree in Media Studies from Westminster University, specialising in Television Production, Maddie began her media career as a music and lifestyle journalist. Passionate about mental health, she then joined Mental Health Media and worked on the UK wide ‘Mad For Arts’ Project. Her filmmaking education began at the seminal broadcasting charity, The Media Trust. Their charity and third sector clients included MIND, Addaction, Oxfam, Comic Relief and Macmillan. They also produced content for the Community Channel.
Maddie next became a featured director on the Channel 4 programme ‘The Shooting Party’. Here she directed her first short film called ‘The Human Whisperer’, which was about a horse that helped her heal from depression.
Her first documentary ‘Even Hitchin Cowgirls Get The Blues’ was made for Anglia/ITV. This was a grass roots, community activism story, about the little people taking on the big guns of private housing, the government and winning.
During her career, she has worked with Roger Graef and received mentoring and guidance from Paul Watson, director of the seminal documentary ‘Rain in my Heart’ about alcoholism.
Her interest in mental health and addiction led her to work at her local NHS Drug Service with clients to facilitate filmmaking workshops for the Recovery Street Film Festival. She is a committed supporter of the Mind Media Awards.
She is now 15 years in recovery from alcohol dependence, anxiety and depression. Maddie began using alcohol to medicate her mental ill health, which was as a result of early trauma and family issues.
In my first year of sobriety, I dreamt of setting up a non-profit CIC that would help people in recovery from addiction, mental ill health and trauma by using my skills as a filmmaker. It was a very personal dream and I realised that not only would it help my recovery and my team but also people around the UK struggling as well. Sobriety Films would also raise public awareness of the existence of ‘recovery’, highlighting what it was and how it could be achieved. We would make original, high quality films on the subject, share our filmmaking skills to others to make their own films in workshops and hold public screenings of films that demystify and popularise the recovery process, with Q&A’s.
As a director I had become frustrated by seeing films made about my ‘lived experience’ by other professional film makers. For me, for a film to be truly authentic and insightful, it should be made by the people who have lived through those experiences. These are people who have struggled with addiction, mental ill health and trauma issues, whose self-belief and confidence holds them back. In such a homogenised, competitive market, where much of production is based on contacts, I feel there is a whole untapped group of talented people who are being marginalised. Sobriety Film works with filmmakers, crew and talent from those under-represented groups.
Diversity is the key for Sobriety Films UK, in an industry, indeed a world, where neurotypicals are dominant. Those neurodiverse individuals bring a fresh outlook and knowledge to their work. In the uncertain times that we live in, we strive to connect and support the creative community of people in recovery.
During COVID, the use of alcohol and drugs increased and in this unstable future, individuals who struggle to work flexibly will be further pushed out of the workplace, thus creating more alienation.
I have always been fascinated by the marginalised and the unexplored power of the oppressed mind. I know what it feels like to feel excluded and ignored. That was my experience. When facilitating recovery filmmaking workshops, I am enriched and invigorated by participants’ boundless creativity that has been forged from a place of ‘outside’. These are people who don’t have a voice- and I know what that’s like. Filmmaking has provided me that voice and I want to pass it onto others.
When I’m making a film, the most important thing for me is the contributor. It’s all about the person and their story, I feel an electricity pass between us, a connection and understanding, where I feel compelled to put their experience on film.
In the filmmaking industry, when you are competing with the mainstream, you are always at a massive disadvantage. Talent doesn’t only originate from high functioning individuals with extensive education. It’s often the ones who are described as ‘different’ or part of a sub-culture that have the most interesting, thought-provoking things to say. When we make a film, we want the audience to come to their own conclusions about what they have seen. We don’t make films that are didactic.
Recovery has played an enormous part in my creative development and I hope that is reflected in the films we produce. Mental ill-health, addiction and trauma push you to the edge of being. These extremes of experience are expansive- generating self-knowledge and awareness. And although painful, growth is essential for survival. It is a gift.
I’ve met some extraordinary people through my work- and communication is key to my personal vision. I want the films to speak loudly and truthfully.
Since we setup in 2019, I’ve been honoured to become a recovery champion for the ‘More Than My Past’ campaign, run by the Forward Trust. I’m also a Time to Change filmmaking champion, contributing my skills to promote de-stigmatisation of mental ill-health.
Our cinema and online screenings of films aim to entertain and provoke debate around the issues we address. By using the Q&A panel following a viewing, we can get the audience to collaborate and engage, share their experience and learn from others.
To date, we have screened ‘DOSED’ on World Mental Health Day 2020 at the Genesis Cinema in London. This is about a woman’s journey through addiction and exploration of psychedelic medicine to achieve peace from her mental illness.
‘Medicating Normal’ was screened during Mental Health Awareness Week, May 2021. This is about the misuse of psychiatric drugs and the epidemic of psychiatric drug prescriptions in the USA; a problem we have also faced in the UK during lockdown.
In June 2021, we joined forces with Science and Nonduality (SAND) to promote the online world premiere of ‘The Wisdom of Trauma’ movie, featuring Dr Gabor Maté, Russell Brand and Tim Ferriss. We were honoured to be asked to be a UK affiliate for this prestigious film by the director Maurizio Bannazzo. I still find it difficult to believe and I think it shows just how far SFUK has come to receive this recognition. In early recovery I was enlightened and encouraged by Gabor’s masterpiece, ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction’. I knew deep down that my depression and addiction were connected to early trauma- and Dr Maté explained that for me.
Finally, our film ‘How I Got Sober’, was premiered at the Reel Recovery Film Festival 2019 in Los Angeles and New York. I even travelled to LA to conduct a Q&A session during the festival. We then screened it in London and during lockdown it was screened twice online by the Scottish Recovery Consortium and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems with a Q&A from the contributors and myself.
And what of the future? Our dream to launch the first ever UK Recovery Film Festival in 2020 was thwarted by the advent of COVID, however we are planning to realise this incredibly important festival in 2022.
Sobriety Films, which started as an inspiring thought in my head during my first year of sobriety, has grown in 2 years as a non-profit CIC to be an organisation that is well respected and well known in the UK recovery network. It is poised to become an expanding creative entity in helping those in recovery from addiction, mental ill-health and trauma by using film. My dream is realised and if that isn’t recovery, I don’t know what is!
‘I had a dream and in this dream I could not speak, I had no voice, I was turned away alone and shunned. I cried in pain god help me. How will I recover? Will I ever love and be loved again?’