‘Heroin(e)’ Director Investigates How Small Towns Battle With Opioids: ‘It Was Pills, It Was Heroin’

TheWrap Screening Series NYC: Oscar documentary short finalists Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Derek Peck share their films

“Heroin(e)” director Elaine McMillion Sheldon opened up on Wednesday evening about the deep and devastating impact the opioid epidemic is having to small American towns.

During a discussion at New York’s Landmark 57 West theater, Sheldon said the problems have long since escalated from addicts popping pills.

“It’s getting worse, it’s not heroin anymore. It was pills, it was heroin, now it’s Fentanyl, now it’s Carfentanyl — that’s elephant tranquilizer,” she said. “Four out of five heroin users started with a prescription, they started with a pill.”

Sheldon, who spent 35 days documenting the opioid epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia, said that while she found no shortage of hopeful stories, the experience didn’t fill her with confidence.

“I didn’t see any great solutions or amazing work, I hate to say,” she said.

Sheldon was joined by fellow director, Derek Peck, who was also on hand to discuss his short “Ram Dass, Going Home.” The work looks at legendary psychedelic guru Ram Dass, now living out his old age in Hawaii.

“He had been such an influential and seminal figure in the ’60s and ’70s,” Peck said. “I was very interested in exploring themes about life and being and death itself. He really embodied the full range in popular American life.”

The two films are among the 10 finalists for this year’s documentary short Oscar competition and while together they could not be more different, they shared some core thematic similarities such as drugs and death.

The discussion with the two directors was led by TheWrap Managing Editor Thom Geier.