SLAMDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Hell is a place called Camden, New Jersey, in Hasan Oswald’s documentary Higher Love. Living amongst this accursed landscape is a real-life superhero- Daryl Gantt. He looks after his young son while his girlfriend, the child’s mother, Nani, is constantly looking to score heroin or fentanyl. We meet Nani before the baby is born. She can’t break her addiction even while pregnant, and she talks about her fear of motherhood and her wracking guilt about the baby possibly having severe issues because of her drug use. We also meet Iman, another addict trying to get to rehab himself, but at the same time selling drugs to keep up with his need to fix.
Daryl’s champion status arises from multiple aspects of how he comports himself in this untenable situation. He is a stand-up guy. Easy for someone in a less desperate situation, but Daryl does it in this living nightmare. He wakes each day, goes to work, parents his son, and chases Nani through the streets, worried sick whether she’s safe, while she thinks only to score. She will do anything for the next hit, including prostitution. Daryl understands what he’s up against, but he keeps showing up. His ordinary acts in this extreme situation are the pure fabric of audacious valor.
“…an exposé on the horrors of the opioid crisis, with the hope that showing the squalor and desperation of addiction would move an audience to positive action…”
Addiction is a disease, not a character flaw, but it is difficult to have sympathy for users. We witness Nani, Iman, and their cadre of enthusiastic addicts continually trying to score, hungrily injecting themselves, or so high they can barely speak intelligible words. Each day is fully scheduled like a workday: funds must be secured, leading to a score, ultimately culminating in a fix.
This plague cuts across ethnic, class, and economic strata, but in films, it seems we only see it on filthy mattresses in abandoned factories. Perhaps it’s because someone in a tony loft in Williamsburg wouldn’t be as open to being filmed? Oswald went everywhere with his subjects.
"…Hell is a place called Camden, New Jersey"