Jamie Boyle first got the idea for her new documentary Anonymous Sister in 2009. But to fully flesh out the sobering story about the toll that prescription opioids took on her family, she used 30 years of her family’s own home videos, going back to her childhood in the early 1990s.
Anonymous Sister, which screened this past weekend at the Newport Beach Film Festival, follows Boyle’s sister, Jordan Hogan, and their mother, Julie Boyle, on a harrowing journey through prescription opioid addiction. It begins with Jordan, in her late teens, experiencing chronic pain from injuries sustained through years of competitive figure skating.
After doctors prescribe her and her mother OxyContin, they fall into a years-long journey through horrible pain that can’t be alleviated, and prescription dosages that get higher and higher and never seem to run out. In the end, they have a choice: Get off the medication, or risk their lives to stay on it. The sense of desperation is juxtaposed with happy memories of skating success and two young sisters frolicking in the sun.
Inspired by a desire to understand what was happened to her mom and sister, Jamie Boyle began her journey as a documentarian when she was in college in 2009. She remembers watching helplessly as they struggled to get out of the grip of addiction.
“I started filming the footage that I captured on black-and-white Super 8 when I was in college. I was a junior, I think, at the time and I had started a program in film production. I had just switched my major to that on a whim, and that was when I really started filming to document what was happening with them,” Boyle told MovieMaker.
Boyle made the original version of the film as a short for college, and then didn’t touch it for several years as she pursued a career in the documentary film space. She’s worked on films including Jackson and Trans in America, and directed a documentary short called Take a Vote. She began revisiting her family’s story in 2016.
Eventually, thankfully, Julie and Jordan both got sober. But Jamie Boyle felt like the pharmaceutical industry did little to help them.
“The epidemic obviously grew to horrific proportions, but also, so much continued that was going on then, 10-plus years ago. I was so horrified to learn of how many practices were still in place and how much misinformation was still being spread at every level,” Boyle said.
The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, agreed in March to pay $6 billion to settle litigation accusing the company of fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic. The owners said in a statement at the time that they “sincerely regret” that OxyContin “unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis.”
Representatives and attorneys for Purdue Pharma did not immediately respond to MovieMaker‘s request for comment on Anonymous Sister.
Jamie Boyle said she and her parents don’t hear much from Jordan Hogan lately, and that she has declined to participate in interviews. But Hogan has seen Anonymous Sister and given the film her blessing.
“That was really important to me, and necessary,” Boyle said. “She’s definitely kept her distance… I’ve just really tried to respect that while also finding this balance of going around the country talking about her story… so far it’s been okay, but yeah, things kind of remain unresolved.”
The documentary ends on a troubling note, noting that the COVID pandemic lockdowns likely exacerbated the opioid crisis by isolating people and breaking them out of the routines that help the maintain their sobriety.
“I think that’s just the situation a lot of families are in, and I’ve had a lot of people who say they can relate to that and that and it made them feel less alone, which is, of course, the whole point of doing it,” Boyle said. “I think that feeling within families is pretty common — of not knowing where to place the blame for this, that, or the other rupture, and just kind of having to forge ahead into the unknown.”
Anonymous Sister is looking at a wide release in 2023.
Main Image: (L-R) Jordan Hogan, Jamie Boyle, and Julie Boyle. Courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival.