SQUALL: A Brooklyn Film Offering a Glimpse into the Journey of Overcoming Substance Abuse

By: Brianna Robles

In 2022, 3,026 people died of overdoses in New York City alone, according to provisional data provided by the city.

Of those who make it through substance abuse and addiction, the process can be a rather difficult one.

This is what James Kelley and Emmi Shockley, creator and writer of the short film, SQUALL, hoped to illuminate when creating the film.

SQUALL follows the main character, Louie, played by James Kelley, who is a recovering addict. In the film, Louie is on a journey to rekindle the relationship he once had with his family, specifically his younger brother, Jack, before addiction.

But as the film progresses, you begin to see that it won’t be an easy process. Viewers get insight into Louie’s world and see that recovery is often a complex battle for those who grapple with this tough disease.

“I think in the beginning, you start with this person who, if you meet on the street, you might cross the street and try to avoid,” admits Kelley.

“But, my hope was that by the end of the story, you might realize, like, this is someone who’s just struggling with something that’s totally relatable and understandable. Hopefully by the end, you can identify with [Louie] a little more and be like, ‘Oh no, he’s trying his best.’”

Connecticut-born Kelley wanted to ensure the project remained authentic to Brooklyn– a city he admires– by using a team of Brooklyn-based filmmakers. Shockley, who has close ties to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, got a first-hand account of the inspiration used for the film as a resident.

“We were thinking about the characters, Louie and Jack, [who] are really resilient, tough people,” explained Kelley. “I think sometimes too tough. And to me, that was perfect for Brooklyn, because I think of Brooklyn as a resilient and tough group of people.”

Kelley found inspiration from interacting with some of his close friends and relatives who have fought through addiction.

As he created the film, he wanted to keep in mind those who battled substance abuse during the pandemic. While the pandemic was a difficult time for many, it was especially tough for those with substance abuse struggles as they often rely on their community for help during rehabilitation, Kelley said.

Creating an authentic display of the trials and victories of rehabilitation was a team effort, explained Kelley. Crew members including the film’s cinematographers, directors, and producers, hoped to give viewers an inside perspective into the mind of Louie.

Additionally, the directors brought in a consultant to help fine-tune every detail between the main characters. He was responsible for adding input, strategies and moments into the film to add to the emotional response among viewers.

The film has since been selected by The Austin Film Festival and The Catalina Film Festival, and featured on film review websites receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from viewers.

The film has also been used in conjunction with medical treatment at Upper Path Recovery, a rehabilitation facility in California, according to Kelley. The rehab facilitators used the film to create an open dialogue about recovery and rehabilitation, adding to the film’s success.

“We’ve had a lot of great experiences, but that, to me, feels the best for sure,” said Kelley. “Knowing that people out there are connecting with it in a meaningful way, and if it’s helpful in a group therapy setting, then that’s just pretty tactful.”

You can view the acclaimed short film here.

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