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Documentary On AA Founder Airs In Cleveland Film Festival

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A documentary showing at the Cleveland International Film Festival this week will garner some local interest because part of it is set in Akron. But it will have a much deeper connection to another group of people from all over the world – alcoholics. “Bill W” is the story of one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson. WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports that his story didn’t end when he stopped drinking.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Drinking was a burden for Bill Wilson. But when he quit, he took up a new burden.

That’s the story that directors Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino tell in their film “Bill W.” They didn’t set out to tell this story; they just wanted to make a film. But as Hanlon happened to be reading the history of Alcoholics Anonymous he realized there was a good story to tell.

The two AA founders were Dr. Bob Smith of Akron and Bill Wilson, a businessman in New York. The filmmakers decided to focus on Wilson, and they had hundreds of tape recordings of his speeches to use.

Wilson had done well on Wall Street by investigating companies and selling information to brokers. But he was a drunk, and even with the loyal support of his wife Lois, he could not get off the bottle. The stock market crash of 1929 knocked him down but it was his addiction that kept him down. On a business trip to Akron a deal fell through and he was on the edge of reaching for a drink.

Wilson famously began making phone calls, hoping to find a fellow alcoholic to help him. He was put in touch with Henrietta Seiberling who invited him to her house – the gate house at Stan Hywet. And that became the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous on Mother’s Day 1935. She introduced him to her friend Dr. Bob Smith, an alcoholic who needed help even more than Bill W. The two men formed the organization and wrote its guiding principles.

Bill W. spent the rest of his life leading AA even though he would like to have simply gone back to a life in business. The responsibilities and the lack of took its toll on him and the lack of adequate pay took a toll on him. For his selfless service to the cause Wilson was adored by AA members.

Many, if not most, of the people in the documentary are alcoholics themselves. Their identity is hidden— their stories, personal.

The documentary, “Bill W.,” is showing at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

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