the flog

DIAMOND in the Rough

Mighty Grounds puts a human face on America's drug problem

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With increasingly clarity over the past decade, the breadth and scope of our nation's drug problem has emerged from the shadows of anecdotal angst to become arguably our nation's most pressing human concern. For the general public, the crisis has personified itself in the faces of all the friends and loved ones lost to opiates-a brutal roster of lost souls that can barely be recited without the loss of composure. Here in Florida, we have had the unfortunate privilege of being on the cutting-edge of almost every type of social ill, long before the mainstream media finds a sellable angle.

Whether it's homelessness, or the plight of our veterans, or gun violence or human trafficking, it's all old news for us long before the first flickerings of sincere shock cross the faces of Mr. and Mrs. America. This is true, also, with drugs, all of them-ALL of them. This is why medical marijuana is such a big deal here: When folks say it's saved lives, it's not just rhetoric; most of us can draw examples from our personal lives. Trailer-park peeps making meth in motel rooms, shaked-and-baked at the WalMart and blowing out backseats of mobile units; angel-headed hipsters freaking from tweaking, anonymous web videos for our dark amusement; parents overdosing in parked cars with their children, where at least someone can maybe save them in time. Florida bears these burdens disproportionately, and there is not a person on Earth who can say with a straight face that they have any idea what to do.

And then there's that fiendish coca, which has killed enough people to fill up a football stadium, most of whom do not reside in the narrow strips of earth where the stuff can even be grown. Broken condoms busting the guts of drug mules from Brownsville to Bogota, hemorrhages and headshots, tears for fears that are entirely justified. Consumer demand in the US and Europe has laid waste to Mexico, erased an entire generation in places like El Paso, Chicago and Miami, and the only winners are cartels and the "Build the Wall" crowd, most of whom have apparently never heard of tunnels or trebuchets, let alone the planes, trains and automobiles.. MAGA? NOPE.

The new documentary Mighty Ground, which premieres in Jacksonville at Sun-Ray Cinema on Saturday night, touches on these issues. Director Delila Vallot and producers Aimee Schoof, Isen Robbins and Natalie Irby left their kid gloves at home for this project. It's too important to soft-sell what can only be described as a slow-motion apocalypse. The film documents the travails of Ronald Troy Collins, who developed an addiction to crack as a young man; those rocks cost him nearly 30 years of his life, spent in rehab facilities and on Skid Row in Southern California.

The film finds Collins situated near rock-bottom, homeless and hopelessly hooked on one of the most addictive substances ever invented, but his sweetness and essential humanity cuts through the despair. He sings for his supper, relying on the kindness of strangers, but for those who stop to listen, it is Collins' voice that provides the real nourishment. He slowly assembles a diverse cadre of loyalists who become emotionally invested in his story, some of whom ended up making this film.

"I met Ronald Troy Collins in Downtown LA outside a club late one night in January 2016," says Schoof. "He approached William Dane and I asking if he could sing for us for money, which he did for over 30 minutes. I had been discussing the idea of a documentary series about homelessness with Delila Vallot for a few months, and after meeting Ronald that night, we decided to start filming him and see where the journey would lead us."

That process culminated with the film's premiere in July 2017. "We premiered at the LA Film Festival in July 2017,"says Schoof, "won audience award in Calgary, played Hot Springs, Napa Valley, Big Sky, and San Luis International Film Festivals. We teamed up with HomeAid America to do a multiple city theatrical tour of the film, sponsored by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. We have screened in LA, San Diego, Denver, Orange County, and will be going to Austin, Portland and San Jose in the next month." The film and its soundtrack will be released digitally next week.

Real-time footage of the subject is interspersed with insight from experts in the field, including politicians, counselors, the CEO of a rescue mission, and a number of Collins' friends. As an experienced singer and songwriter, Collins himself provides much of the movie's music. The team at Intrinsic Value Films has put nearly three dozen projects into production since their founding in 1988, but Mighty Ground may be the most ambitious yet.

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