Coming to theatres this Friday, May 18: BILL W.
Kevin Hanlon’s portrait of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous made its premiere earlier this year at Denton TX’s Thin Line Film Fest. The doc went on to screen at the Cleveland International Film Festival, where it claimed the Local Heroes award and was the runner-up for Audience Award.
When William G Wilson, the titular subject of this comprehensive biographical documentary, finally hit rock bottom, leaving he and his suffering wife Lois destitute, and nearly drinking himself to death, he came upon the idea that would become Alcoholics Anonymous. Working with Dr Bob Smith, Bill organized a support group for drinkers and developed the famous 12-step program that has helped innumerable people out of their addiction. Despite the success of AA, however, Bill was always plagued by depression and low self-esteem, ultimately costing him his life. Hanlon’s film utilizes an astonishing amount of rare archival audio to detail Wilson’s life, supplemented with period video, interviews, and re-enactments – while I’m not a fan of the latter in docs, they help add a visual element to the fascinating recordings of Bill, which are the strongest element of the project. As a whole, the film effectively captures the paradoxes and legacy of Bill W’s life.