April Nee died on a Saturday in 2012. She died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in her grandmother’s apartment in Hull, Massachusetts.
Like all too many in New England in recent years, April had been unable to overcome her addictions despite several attempts at recovery. While her family thought she was a sober alcoholic, she had started to use heroin.
When she suddenly overdosed, her family was devastated. April’s brother Marty told me that his sister’s funeral service was the toughest day in his life. They were close, even years later he visibly struggled with his emotions when he told me about that day in a church in York, Maine. “We tried to help and support April, but we lost her.”
Marty Nee has had quite a few tough days in his life: he is a recovering alcoholic himself who has been sober for some twenty months now. Sometime after the death of his sister, Marty had the idea to make a movie about April. It could help the family deal with the grief and serve as an inspiration for others.
The name for the project came to him when he was listening to a song by local rock band The Shills. In the refrain, frontman Bryan Murphy intones: “I can change” followed by:
“I keep hearing everybody’s the same. Human condition all caught up in the brain.”
Suddenly, Marty knew, he would call the movie Human Condition. He wants it to be an emotionally charged and powerful film that tells a story about love as well as loss.
“Regardless of the circumstances surrounding one’s addiction, we all deserve to be treated with humanity, and that’s what April’s legacy is about,” says Marty. “People need to understand addiction as a medical condition and we need to change the way we treat addiction, both medically and socially.”
Addiction is clearly a disease that runs in their family. April and Marty’s mother Nancy Ellen Hardy also battled alcohol and prescription drug addiction for many years but has now been sober for 16 years.
“April was my best friend, so when she died I was left with a huge emptiness in the pit of my stomach. That’s a feeling I live with every single day,” Nancy says. “However, it has also given an incredible determination to do something to stop this cycle of pain and loss.”
With the movie Nancy is now producing with Marty, they want to question and shatter our society’s perception of addiction.
“Perspective will change the world,” Marty tells me in his office in Charlestown, where the production of Human Condition is in the beginning stages. He wants to aim high, maybe the narrative documentary he has in mind will make it all the way to the Sundance Film Festival. But more importantly, he wants to bring the scourge of addiction out into the open. “These are not junkies and weak-willed losers but our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”
Marty compares the current addiction epidemic to the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. “When it was closeted and stigmatized, nothing happened, there was only movement when it came out into the open.”