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SHS Professor’s Film Screens at NYC Film Festival By Chris Gregor


thE PolicE wErE cAllinG to say they were breaking into her mother’s house because mail was piling up and no one had heard from her. That call signaled the end of years of suffering, and the inspiration for My Name Was Bette: The Life and Death of an Alcoholic, a film coproduced, directed, and written by Sherri vandenAkker, professor at the Springfield College School of Human Services Boston Campus. The feature-length


documentary about women’s alcoholism chronicles the progression of the disease in Sherri’s mother, Bette vandenAkker, who died in the fall of 2007 under horrific circumstances. Accepted by the REEL Recovery Film Festival in New York City sponsored by Writers in Treatment, it was screened in September. The film was named an official selection of the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, also held in September. vandenAkker tells her


There are many students of color in SHS; they were moved by the film and surprised to learn statistics that white women are far more likely to be addicted to alcohol. SHS students are remarkable for confronting tough life issues. They definitely connected with the story and appreci- ated me telling it.” Working on the film was


Sherri VandenAkker, center, celebrates with Elaina Brin, assistant director for recruitment and admissions, and Lewis Clarke, interim campus director, School of


Human Services Boston Campus, after VandenAkker's film, My Name Was Bette: The Life and Death of an Alcoholic, received an Award of Merit from IndieFest 2012. The emotionally charged documentary about alcoholism in women, focuses on the chronological progression of the disease in Bette VandenAkker, Sherri's mother.


mother’s story to help women suffering from the disease. Her first thought was to create a PowerPoint presentation, but that changed when she decided moving images would be more powerful. “I realized it could be disseminated more widely and tell a better story in film. I connected with Josh Hays, a master of fine arts in film student at Boston University who was seeking a thesis project, and it was a great fit,” she tells Triangle. She and Josh started working work in early 2008 and completed the film in late 2011. As an SHS faculty member, the subject


was a natural for vandenAkker: “My mother’s case study, while personal, was a way to get the story out and create awareness. I’m excited SHS has used the film in a seminar and in addictions concentration courses.


“My mother’s case study, while personal, was a way to get the story


out and create awareness. I’m excited SHS has used the film in a seminar and in addictions concentration courses. There are many students of


color in SHS; they were moved by the film and surprised to learn statistics


that white women are far more likely to be addicted to alcohol. SHS students are remarkable for


confronting tough life issues. They definitely connected with the story and appreciated me telling it.”


cathartic. “One would think this was painful—but it was so consuming and education- ally-driven that it helped me contain it, transform it, and deal with it objectively. It became a gift rather than just a horrible episode in my life,” she tells Triangle. The research for a section of the film that explains the physiology and psychology of the disease helped vandenAkker separate her mother from the illness. The process of interviewing friends gave her more empathy for her mother. “It helped me get closer to her by finding things I had been


shut out of or did not know. It gave her back to me.” Sherri also grew closer to her sister, krystyn, who appears in the film. “I am grateful that she was agreeable to me telling this story, and willing to participate; not every family member would be willing to bare the intimate details of a family tragedy,” she notes. What would vandenAkker like people to


take away from the film? “That alcoholism is a treatable disease and that alcoholics should feel compassion for themselves, but commit to getting help, knowing that it is possible to move forward. I want people to feel it is Ok to take that risk.”1


TRIANGLE 1 Vol . 84, No. 1


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