Todd Ahlberg is sombre as he recounts the friendships he has lost to crystal meth.
It would start with friends becoming less available. Return phone calls would start to get very erratic. Then they would just vanish, the Los Angeles director says.
Then I would hear from other friends saying, -˜Did you hear about so and so?’ His crystal habit got out of control, and he lost his life, he lost his job, he lost his health, whatever it was.
Ahlberg had heard similar stories while making his 2002 documentary Hooked, about gay internet cruising. When the director’s own friends started succumbing to crystal meth, he decided it was time to act.
Ahlberg put the word out about his plans for a new documentary. Within weeks he’d heard from more than 500 men from across the United States.
For all of them, their main motivation was they didn’t want to see this happen to other people.
Ahlberg eventually settled on 15 gay men from across the United States, 11 of whom appear in Meth, which screens at Queer Screen’s queerDOC documentary festival next month.
The interviewees speak frankly about the drug nicknamed Tina. Some used it to escape uninspiring lives; others were drawn to Tina because of its cachet on the US gay party circuit.
At first all of Meth‘s subjects loved crystal’s intense rush, and one recalls the double high of sex on the drug.
But as their crystal use spiralled, many of the interviewees lost jobs or friends. Being high became the norm and safe sex was given short shrift: many of Meth‘s subjects became HIV-positive while users.
Although it sidesteps the contentious question of a causal link between crystal meth and HIV transmission, Ahlberg’s film is making an impact in other ways, if the discussion sessions after recent US screenings are any guide.
There are so many hands still raised at the end of the [discussion] time that we have allotted, he says.
I believe those people are going home still thinking about it, and they’re talking to their friends about it.
Ahlberg believes openness and dialogue are the best solution, saying all but one of the Meth subjects who were using crystal during filming have now stopped.
And the director is quietly hopeful about the former friends who prompted the documentary in the first place.
I have a secret little wish that one or more of them will see the film and contact me. I’m waiting for that call where we make amends.
Meth screens at the Chauvel Cinema on 21 September as part of queerDOC. For bookings and more information visit the Queer Screen website.