Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd goes In Depth with filmmaker Joe Atkinson about his docu-series on drug addiction.
BB: Welcome to In Depth. In the newsroom, we call it a story that always has legs, tragically drug addiction here at home continues to break and takes lives. Joining me tonight is our friend and filmmaker Joe Atkinson who is also a Professor at the University of Evansville and is also very involved in theatre here in Evansville. Joe you have been working on this documentary, you’re no stranger to filmmaking. But you’ve been working on this for some time. Tell me about what drew you to this drug addiction right here at home?
JA: About three lifetimes ago when I was with the Courier and Press I spent a year as the police reporter. This was something you saw in the arrest reports that there were drugs involved. Fast forward several years as I was looking at a new topic and wanting to do something else that kept sticking out in my mind. This is a bigger problem in this area than people realize. After sitting down talking with Steven Lockyear the Vanderburgh County Coroner and looking at the overdose numbers and how they’ve been going up for several years. It was something worth talking about and a conversation worth starting. So I jumped in.
BB: Did you find it difficult to talk to people about this topic? Sometimes it is tough for someone to actually sit down and have a conversation about that.
JA: What surprised me a little bit was how difficult it wasn’t in a lot of cases to get people to talk about this. Whether it was public officials, I sent an email to the Governor’s office, the Mayor’s office and almost to … they got back to me and said great when can we schedule it. The only person who didn’t get back to me was our Congressman Bucshon. Whose office had asked me for some information and then I didn’t hear back from them. But everybody else on camera was great. But also the people who were in recovery and hearing them tell their story. That’s part of the process that’s part of recovery is to tell your story.
BB: And we’re seeing some of those people right now.
JA: They were willing to share their story.
BB: Also in the partying days that leadup to possibly a lot of this problem. What did you learn that really surprised you though? You thought I knew it was bad but this really got to me.
JA: You know I think some of things that got to me, that surprise me were the scope of the problem in this area. And how I think little people notice it. It’s a really easy thing if it’s not a loved one or somebody you know directly to sort of push it to the side and not think about it. And not spend time with it. There are soo many people who are suffering here and there are so many people whose family members are suffering here. We don’t know it and we don’t think about and we don’t want to talk about it. I think because we don’t want to talk about it we don’t always move as aggressively toward a solution or not really a solution but working on the problem.
BB: With that said what do you want to see happen with this film. How would you like to see this distributed? Who you’d like to help with?
JA: Its a five episode series and the first two episodes will be on WNIN tomorrow night. The second two the following Thursday and the last one on the next Thursday. I think I would love to see this play on public television outside of Evansville and around Indiana. Because this is a problem you see across the midwest and across the county its not a Vanderburgh County problem its America problem in a lot of ways.
BB: You’ve got kids so obviously you probably want children to see this.
JA: I do. I would love to see this in schools. I would love to see us have this conversation some. Whether its in schools. I showed it to all the people who were interviewed in the film already. People who were at the rescue mission and other places came up to and said can I get a copy of this? I’d love to show this at work. or I’d love to show this, you know the centers that they work in that kinda thing. Of course, I’d love to make that happen.
BB: Alright, I know you are balancing a lot plates on those the poles. I’m really dating myself. You teach and you ran over here tonight from the theatre.
JA: I rode. yeah.
BB: It felt like running though.
JA: Lucky to find a gondola that was coming this direction.
BB: There you go.
JA: Yeah, I’m directing a play called ….. transformation. It opens tomorrow night at studio 321. One of Evansville underground productions. Along with directing it, we had a actor be injured last week. So for 6 days, I’ve been playing his role. I’m a little tired right now.
BB: Directors are often understudies in theatre.
BB: Well Joe I’m looking forward to seeing this documentary and thank you soo much for the work that you are doing on this. I know there will be future projects that we’ll talk about in future years and so forth. Thank you.
JA: If you’ll have me. Thank you, Brad.
BB: Thank you, Joe. Joe Atkinson. You’re watching Eyewitness News at 9.
(This story was originally published on February 12, 2020)