It’s a long way from the streets of inner-city St. Louis, Missouri to the trendy west side of Manhattan, New York City. It’s an even longer stretch to imagine the first film by a product of those tough streets would by courted by the prestigious NY Museum of Modern Art. As improbable as it sounds, that’s exactly what has happened to Curtis Elliott and Ben Scholle, the Co-Directors of their gritty documentary Hairkutt, the true story of one man’s life and death battle against heroin and his friends’ daring move to save him.
Curtis Elliott didn’t set out to make a movie for the fame, the money, or even for the art. He wasn’t a filmmaker at all, having never shot anything other than the typical birthday party and backyard bar-b-que. He was driven to make a very particular film for a very specific reason: “I made Hairkutt simply because I wanted to save lives.”
Hairkutt has toured the festival circuit, picking up Best Documentary, Audience Choice Award at the International Black Film Festival; Director’s Award at the Hearts and Mind Film Festival; Best Documentary Award at the St. Louis Filmmakers’ Showcase; and Best Social Documentary Award at the New York Independent and International Film Festival. It has garnered critical acclaim from The Boston Globe, The Utah Daily Chronicle, CinemaATL and other critics.
Now available nationwide on DVD through such major retailers as Amazon and Netflix, perhaps the most prestigious of screenings yet of Hairkutt will occur February 24 at 2 PM, when it shows in NY at MOMA’s Documentary Fortnight Exhibition.
Sally Berger, MOMA’s Assistant Curator for Film, says Hairkutt was invited to exhibit because “We felt it was an unusual topic that we had never seen before covered in documentary, and we felt it was from a very personal perspective, and from that point of view it seemed very important to include it. People who are struggling with drug addiction and their friends who are struggling alongside them are not often seen telling the story in their own words. It was a very brave thing for everyone involved in the film to agree to, and we’re delighted to have it in the program.”
Elliott and Scholle plan to attend the MOMA screening and take part in a post-screening discussion with the audience. It will be a long journey for them, one they never imagined back in 2002 when Elliott loaded his car with cameras and his friends headed to that remote mountaintop cabin to help their heroin-addicted friend kick his heroin habit cold turkey. Ultimately, making Hairkutt to help to save lives may have also opened new doors and perhaps launched a new vocation for a first-time filmmaker from St. Louis.