Filmmaker Q&A with Director Colin Askey

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Frederick Wiseman


What motivated you to make this film?

People are dying everyday in record numbers from preventable overdose deaths. My hope is for this film to shed light on a compassionate and evidence-based treatment option that has proven to save and improve the lives of chronic injection drug users. I also hope that this film encourages people to view drug use and users in less stigmatizing ways, and can aid us to move past the failed barbaric drug policies that contribute to the current crisis.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Sony A7S; nothing special


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

We combined a mix of observational footage and a free-wheeling “in-situ” style of interview to deliver both a glimpse into the inner-workings of the Crosstown Clinic and insight into the myriad obstacles and tragedies our characters face as injection drug users.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The project began as an awareness campaign about the findings of a study that demonstrated the various benefits of opioid-assisted treatment to counter the Canadian federal government’s threats to shut the project down. Following a change in government and reduced pressure on harm-reduction centres like the Crosstown Clinic, I teamed up with Lost Time Media to expand the project into a stand-alone short documentary, with the hopes of reaching a larger audience via festivals and online streaming. The approach evolved from a shorter piece with many voices into a longer treatment with a more in-depth focus on the stories of two participants.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

The most rewarding experience was being able to hear the clinic participants’ stories and how much they’ve had to overcome in their lives. It was and is a big honour to be entrusted to share those stories.


What advice can you give to other filmmakers?

Keep making films! There are incredibly powerful and important stories all around us if you are willing to put in the time to earn the trust that will allow you to tell them in a respectful and compelling way.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Trust! I feel grateful and honoured to have so many special moments and stories shared with me.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

Whatever I forgot to take with me on the last shoot!


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

One of the people we filmed with but whose story, sadly, was not included in the film, is Robert, a Crosstown Clinic patient who had spent many years in prison and now lives in social housing. Having spent some time with him at his home for an interview, one of his neighbors, an elderly woman in a wheelchair, stopped us on our way out because she wanted to share how much she appreciates Robert, who regularly brings her dinner and groceries because it’s so hard for her to get around. This moment really hit home for me as a counter to so many of the conventional notions of addiction, and how transformative it can be to have access to a free and safe drug supply.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

As we all know, the competition to access funds and reach audiences is extremely stiff; attempting to navigate these waters is extremely challenging and HAVEN is no exception. Managing rejection can be demoralizing, but it might be the most important filmmaking skill of all!


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

There are currently many successful evidence-based treatment alternatives for injection drug users that would help save lives if allowed to expand. The war on drugs approach has dramatically failed to reduce drug use, drug sales, crime, and overdose deaths. We desperately need to change the way we approach drug use and users and start implementing programs like this that are saving lives.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

  1. Heroin-assisted treatment:
  2. Was first implemented in Switzerland in the 1990s
  3. Was first implemented (as a study) in North America in Vancouver, Canada in the mid 2000s
  4. Has been rigorously studied and proven highly successful for chronic injection heroin users
  5. Studies at the Crosstown Clinic have shown that those in treatment with diacetylmorphine or hydromorphone have a roughly 85% retention rate, where as Methadone or buprenorphine have only around a 35% retention rate
  6. Two main takeaways from this treatment are:
  7. The use of street opiates comes with a high risk of overdose whereas no one has ever died from an overdose in a heroin-assisted treatment program
  8. When you provide someone with heroin-assisted treatment you immediately reduce criminal and high risk behaviour such as sex work, giving people the opportunity to address and improve other aspects of their lives


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Heroin-assisted treatment has been used successfully in several European countries since the 1990s. There is a strong movement for “Safe Supply” drug policies currently growing in Canada that hopes to increase access to pharmaceutical opiates. There are now a handful of programs that provide opiate-assisted treatment in Canada, however Crosstown Clinic remains the only program providing diacetylmorphine (the active ingredient in heroin). There are as yet not programs like this available in the United States.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Opiate-assisted therapy has been rigorously studied and there is plenty of research available on the subject. There are also many drug user advocacy groups across North America fighting to raise awareness and implement various harm reduction approaches that may need volunteers, donations, or other kinds of support.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:







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