By C.J. Hirschfield

In 2020, more people in San Francisco died of overdoses than of covid-19—an almost impossible statistic to comprehend.

So a film featuring people living in that city who are in recovery from addiction is timely and hopeful; what is unique is that all nine of them have had their lives dramatically transformed by the “alternative high” they achieve through art-making.

In the new documentary THE CREATIVE HIGH which has its world premiere at the 24th SF Independent Film Festival, director Adriana Marchione has divided her film into three chapters, each featuring the stories of three people. It is a lot of folks to keep track of, but she helps by repeating titles more than once.

The individuals are as diverse and interesting as their art, and we are given a taste of their worlds: drag performance, hip-hop, dance, theater, visual art, punk—and even stone carving. San Francisco feels like a tenth character in the film; the gorgeous cinematography is a luscious love letter, with drones capturing to-die-for shots of the area’s fog, water and nature, in addition to its urban grit.

The artists are honest and open about how they came to their addictions, and the toll it took in their lives. Many speak of traumatic childhoods and abuse; a number of them began using drugs and alcohol at a shockingly early age.

Their stories are the opposite of depressing, however, and the excellent performance art scenes are filled with color and passion. Identity and freedom are recurring themes for all of the artists.

Here are some of their quotes:

“Addiction is an abyss.”

“Art kept me alive.”

“Sobriety gave me my life back.”

In many documentary films, particularly those shot over a longer period of time, written updates on the subjects are provided before the credit roll, as they are in THE CREATIVE HIGH.

At the end of this film, I held my breath, hoping that for all of these strong and talented individuals, art wins.

THE CREATIVE HIGH will be presented in-person Sunday, February 6 at 7pm at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco
and virtually online from February 3 to February 13, 2022. Access is $10 (available here) and you have 7 days to watch it after purchase and 24 hours to complete once started.  Co-Presented with the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. 

Directed by Adriana Marchione

75 minutes, English 

THE CREATIVE HIGH Official Website has excellent Resources for Recovery, Behavioral Health and Creativity.

Read “Artists in Recovery Find Their Fix in THE CREATIVE HIGH” by Olivia Pennelle for The Fix.




The 24th SF Independent Film Festival presents 65 films: features and shorts, narrative, documentary, animation and experimental from Thursday, February 3-13. Films will be presented both in-person at the Roxie Theater and streaming in your home. Tickets and information here. Many films will have Q&As following the screening. 

In-person admission is $14 in advance, $15 at the door. Virtual screenings are $10 each program and you have 7 days to watch it after purchase and 24 hours to complete once started. In this way you can stretch your festival an extra week but purchasing throughout the first week.

Official Festival Website


C.J. Hirschfield retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and advocated on behalf of the industry. A former writer for Film Month, she also penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years and now writes features and reviews for EatDrinkFilms. C.J. holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.

Hirschfield currently serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.

C.J. says, “A good documentary takes us places we never could never have imagined, and changes the way we see the world.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s