Cleveland International Film Festival } April 7 – April 18, 2021 } Playhouse Square

A 'Call for Compassion' for Recovering Crystal Meth Addicts

March 29, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


A fellow filmmaker childhood friend, an influential high school teacher, and a love for larger-than-life characters on screen made way for Terrence Crawford’s career as a film director. What began as a 20-minute student film evolved into Crawford’s first feature-length documentary, “Crystal City,” about recovery from crystal meth addiction in New York City’s gay community.

Unemployed and looking for work, Crawford and the film’s cinematographer and editor, John Maidman, decided to create an impactful project in their spare time. For Crawford, it was something deeply personal.

“I personally have been in recovery from crystal meth addiction since early 2015 and share much of the same history as my documentary subjects,” says Crawford. “Sobriety and the 12-step model of recovery have dramatically improved my life for the better ever since. However, for years, I was embarrassed to share my experience in recovery with even friends and family.

Although the subject matter was all-too-familiar, that was inevitably the most challenging factor of bringing the film to life.

“Because so many of the film’s characters share my own history and experience with drug use, I found it difficult to ask for help from friends, family, and colleagues during production for fear of ‘outing’ myself as a recovering crystal meth addict,” Crawford admits. “My fear of being judged by strangers consistently limited the documentary’s scope, budget, and impact until I finally opened up about my personal history of recovery from addiction.”

Film and television’s typical portrayal of crystal meth addiction fuels a harmful stigma that often keeps honest discussion off limits. These projects tend to zoom in on the damaging effects of using and less about solutions and recovery. These perceptions make it even harder for recovering addicts to open up about their history and experience—even with those closest to them.

“I wanted to make a documentary that reduces this stigma by representing a group of crystal meth addicts as talented, resourceful, and intelligent people in recovery capable of long-term sobriety and life improvement,” Crawford says. “My intention is for the general public to relate to these recovering crystal meth addicts, not to pity them as hopeless cases.”

“Crystal City” features voices from all walks of life to give a real-life depiction of the reaches of crystal meth addiction.

“I want CIFF audiences to leave the theater with a fresh perspective on people in recovery,” says Crawford. “Hopefully our audience will relate to these documentary subjects and recognize that the addicts in their own lives are capable of success and redemption.”

—Amy Brown

PHOTO: With so many stories to tell, Filmmaker Terrence Crawford had to leave some out. One particularly powerful story that didn’t make the final cut, he notes, was of a man shooting up in Greenwich Village on September 11, 2001. He recounts tthat seeing the plumes of smoke rising from New York City’s Ground Zero motivated the an toward a decade of sobriety. This account, like so many others, is a unique story of recovery that can inspire addicts and provide hope to those in their support circles.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.4 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/29/19 @ 6:40 PM – Crystal City
03/30/19 @ 3:15 PM – Crystal City
03/31/19 @ 9:15 AM – Crystal City

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FILM UPDATE: Meet or revisit the Radical Monarchs, a group of young girls of color at the front lines of social justice. Set in Oakland, CIFF44 alum We Are The Radical Monarchs - Documentary Film documents the journey of the group as they form, grow, and earn badges for completing units on social justice, being an ally for LGBTQ+, the environment, and disability justice. Tune in or stream Monday, July 20th at 9 PM on PBS (check your local listing).

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FILM UPDATE: Meet or revisit the Radical Monarchs, a group of girls of color on the frontlines of social justice and allyship. Tune in or stream #CIFF44 alum @RadMonarchsDoc on Monday, July 20th at 9PM on @PBS (check local listing). #RadicalMonarchsFilmPBS

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Film friends, there is still time to catch SELMA, directed by CIFF alum Ava DuVernay and available across streaming platforms for free through June! Watch the trailer at

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