Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Feeling thirsty or dying for drink?

It is Northern Ireland's drug of choice, but our relationship with alcohol can be problematic.

BBC presenter William Crawley has taken a look at the unique drink culture in the television documentary Dying For A Drink.

Made by Doubleband Films, director and producer Brian Henry Martin outlines the challenge set to the presenter.

As an experienced documentary filmmaker for Doubleband Films, I have made films over the past few years on many big and powerful subjects, everything from the Normandy landings on D-Day to the Heysel stadium disaster.

But no subject has daunted me more than what I faced in Dying for a Drink, this society's strange and obsessive relationship with alcohol.

Firstly, the question was where to begin?

From the outside, alcohol is this society's drug of choice, it lubricates every part of our lives. And then secondly, where to stop with such a huge subject?

Ultimately, the answer for our documentary Dying For A Drink lay in the approach.

We wanted to take the issue of this society's relationship with alcohol out of the daily news, out of the tabloid headlines and take a more measured approach. But is our drinking already out of control?

The use and abuse of alcohol is a rapidly growing problem in Northern Ireland.

We have doubled the amount of alcohol we drink in 20 years, the number of alcohol related deaths has also doubled in the same period and we have cut the price of alcohol, so that it is now cheaper in some cases than water.

In this timely, authored documentary, William Crawley sets out on a personal journey to explore our curious and frequently unhealthy relationship with alcohol and to consider the impact that it has on us all - as individuals and as a society.

William meets people from all sides of the alcohol debate, who talk frankly about how alcohol has affected their lives.

These are ordinary people with extraordinary attitudes towards drink; people like young teenage pioneers taking the pledge never to drink alcohol for the rest of their lives; people like the chronic alcoholics of a wet hostel whose drastic drinking habits reveal a lifetime's addiction and people like the sophisticated drinkers at a social wine tasting who drink alcohol not for the affect but for the taste.

Along with leading medical experts in Northern Ireland like Dr Neil McDougall, Consultant Hepatologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dr Cathal Cassidy from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Professor Mahen Varma, Consultant Cardiologist, at the Erne Hospital, these range of people with very different experiences and opinions provide the film with a revealing perspective on our relationship with alcohol.

It was important for me as a filmmaker, to set William a personal challenge over the course of the film.

His challenge was to abstain from alcohol for one month; five completely dry weeks.

We wanted to see what happens when someone in our society completely removes alcohol from their lives. The challenge proved to be more difficult and life changing than William first thought.

For the month long booze free challenge William recorded his own tee-total video diary at home with both surprising and compelling results.

And at the end of the abstaining challenge - and the film - William has the choice to drink alcohol again or not.

On the final day of filming, when William was poured a pint of the finest Hilden Brewery beer, we genuinely did not know what decision he was going to make.

For me, the biggest revelation from this journey to the bottom of the bottle - was this society's all or nothing attitude towards alcohol.

We are one of the largest consumers of alcohol in Europe with an ever increasing binge drinking problem, but also with a record number of teetotallers, people young and old completely abstaining from alcohol.

It would appear that the middle ground, which some of us may have witnessed abroad, responsible, enjoyable, healthier drinking (maybe even with food around the family table!) has passed most of us in Northern Ireland by.

Dying For a Drink is a documentary that will touch the lives of practically all viewers, as it is about the role that alcohol has in all our lives.

We want this film not to be the end of the discussion, but to be the starting point for a debate about our relationship with alcohol.
source: BBC News

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