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My Name is Bette is a documentary that is both deeply personal and extremely informative. Sherri VandenAkker tracks her mother's descent into alcohol use and how it affected her own life (as well as the lives of her sister and father). VandenAkker is unsparing but never brutal in her portrayal of her mother's life and alcoholism. The film also presents rich documentation of the effects of alcohol use by women. Weaving together the honest personal story and facts within the framework of visual detail and a surprisingly suspenseful narrative makes this an excellent and captivating documentary. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the family and gender dynamics of alcohol use--as well as anyone who appreciates strongly informative filmmaking with powerful emotional implications.
At the conclusion of this powerful documentary chronicling her mother's
life and alcoholism, filmmaker Sherri VandenAkker calls her an
"accidental feminist." The film truthfully, even relentlessly, details
the physical and mental toll drink took on the once beautiful Bette, an
accomplished nurse who loved her work. Nevertheless, viewers are left
with the portrait of a hard-working, courageous woman who succumbed to
a disease rather than a pitiful, weak addict who chose indulgence over
discipline. This dual vision--the struggling, lovable human being who
became a recluse living in "an animal's den," as her daughter Krystyn
White describes her mother's home--makes the film a lesson in both the
dangers of alcoholism and the challenges women faced as workers, wives,
and mothers in the late twentieth century.
VandenAkker provides solid evidence of how women's alcoholism differs from men's in devastating ways: why women are less likely to seek rehabilitation; the link between drinking and depression in women; and the greater stigma attached to alcoholic women. Throughout, she skillfully interposes folk art drawings by Parker Lanier, a recovering alcoholic whose pictures movingly illustrate the loneliness inherent in hopeless alcoholism and the spirituality and hope provided by Alcholics Anonymous's 12-step program. Bette never recovered, and VandenAkker does not shrink from the isolation and squalor of her mother's final years. Still, the determination and joy of her two daughters--both of whom speak with sorrow and love about their mother--and their belief that their mother's life had beauty and purpose despite its pain, will bring solace to those living with alcoholism and enlighten others about this family disease.
Highly recommended for academic and personal use.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My Name was Bette was incredibly well done. Director Sherri VandenAkker
avoids the temptation of emotionalism and somehow finds a way to tell
this compelling, heart-wrenching story of her mother Bette's losing
battle with alcoholism in a way that allows the viewer to have their
own experience of a story so personal to her (as well as her sister,
who also appears throughout the film.)
The story charts the inevitable decline in a deliberate and honest way, as VandenAkker and her sister add parallel commentary on the impact to them as small children through adulthood. Often these films can play on the heart strings, but this film is genuine, raw, as well as confident in the power of this story to weave itself into the hearts and minds of the viewers without a hint of well-intentioned nudging.
As a student of recovery films, and the latest medical and scientific discoveries with regard to alcoholism, and I found the descriptions of the affects of alcoholism on the body to be accurate, concise and presented in layman's terms. I would not hesitate to say it was the most comprehensive and most easily understood presentation I have seen in a film. The film also breaks down many of the roadblocks to recovery presented by religion and societal prejudices that make recovery even harder for women.
This film would be of great benefit for a Seminary pastoral care course focused on alcoholism and addiction, clergy training as well as for people in recovery.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie "My Name Was Bette" is an essential video for treatment centers and any health care setting. The genetic information is pulled from current research and is more accurate than most "educational" videos available today at double the cost (for institutions). More than 20 genes have been linked to alcoholism, though most "treatment" is received through the department of corrections - it is not adequately covered by health insurance and is largely criminalized in society. The video touches on important features of the disease: (1) prescription drug use, now almost always present in the alcoholism disease process as the result of over-prescribing and widespread availability, (2) failed treatment (likely) influenced by inconsistency in the standards of care (doctors, pilots, and other professionals receive long-term follow-up with drug-testing and other supports), (3) the tendency in society to project hope onto the normal ups-and-downs of life visible in the life of an alcoholic while the disease continues to progress inexorably from early, to middle, to late-stage symptoms, and (4) the rapid progression and gender-specific obstacles for women with alcoholism. The video covers more essential ground in one hour than most I've seen. Outstanding work. This video is a step in the right direction: A must-see for anyone interested in the disease.
As a clinician who works on a daily basis with addicts struggling to
stay in recovery, I found this film incredibly informative and moving.
All of my clients have watched this film and it seems that they have
learned a lot about alcoholism but also about the struggles that
families endure while watching their addicted family member in the
middle of their substance use.
For me personally this film hit me head first. My own mother is a sever alcoholic and as I watched this film it was if I was watching the decline of my own mother.
Thank you for sharing the story of your mother and the life she lived. Thank you for allowing yourself to feel that pain all over again and THANK YOU for allowing us, the viewers, be witness to your healing through the process. You are strong and so many can learn from you and this film.
This film is brilliant and vital to all, but particularly to practitioners, addiction counselors, family members who love and support an alcoholic, and to those who are struggling to overcome this addiction. The film hit very close to home for me, as my mother succumbed to the disease this year. Watching the trajectory of Bette was very much like witnessing the struggle of my mother, particularly in the final years of her life. The film is definitely heart-rending, but the detailed exposition of how alcoholism impacts and slowly destroys the female body is extremely informative and powerful. Bette's life is shown in important detail in this documentary, and the memories shared by film maker Sherri VandenAkker, her sister, and other family and friends of Bette are poignant and extremely touching in so many ways. The film also highlights the need for more education on alcoholism by practitioners and the court system, which is often too quick to sentence offenders with incarceration instead of rehabilitation services which would be of true assistance to those struggling to overcome this illness. The same way that someone would ensure that a family member receives the best care to overcome cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses, so should they work to find the best care for the addict. Thanks to Sherri for shedding light on this disease in such a powerful way.
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