The Hungry Heart – The Making of the Movie


The Movie

My name is Bess O’Brien; and I made the documentary film, The Hungry Heart, two years ago. What a ride it has been!

The Hungry Heart provides an intimate look at the often hidden world of prescription drug addiction through the eyes of Vermont pediatrician Fred Holmes and his work with patients struggling with opiate addiction.

2015-2-O'Brien-t-Hungry_HeartThe idea for the film came to me through Fred and his long-time patient, Katie Tanner, who both wanted to raise addicts’ voices and help erase the stigma that many folks struggling with addiction carry with them. We thought making a film that would tell the stories of Fred’s patients and then touring the film through their home state of Vermont would raise consciousness and create change. It did!

Fred is the quintessential country doctor, beloved by his patients and community, often known to make house calls, a jokester, an avid fan of the Red Sox and an old-fashioned guy who tends to use phrases that date back to the 1950s – including his habit of calling ornery teenagers “squirrely youngsters.”

After 35 years of taking care of kids with coughs, colds and appendicitis, Fred discovered that a number of his young patients were addicted to painkillers. At age 65, he decided he needed to step up and help these desperate kids with this debilitating disease. Fred became licensed to prescribe Suboxone (buprenorphine), a drug used to help stop the cravings addicts have for opiates. He also became affiliated with the Howard Center, a local outpatient treatment facility that provided counseling and services to the folks he treated.

As I made the film, I began to better understand the simple but profound connection Dr. Holmes created with each patient. The film illuminates the healing power of conversation and the need for connection that many of these young addicts yearn for, but do not have in their lives.

We interviewed a number of older addicts, juxtaposed to Fred’s patients, who also described their recovery process. The road to recovery is paved with success stories and strewn with relapses, downfalls and tragic losses. We documented the many faces and diverse populations of addiction and their continued search for a life of recovery.

On the Road!

On September 21, 2013, The Hungry Heart premiered in Fred Holmes’ hometown of St. Albans, Vermont, to a packed house of 500 people. The following week the film had a grand premiere at the Flynn Center for Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont, for an audience of 1,500 people.

We then toured with the film to 37 towns across Vermont and people from the film toured with us. Small towns, cities, church basements, school auditoriums, movie theaters, opera houses and town halls – we were there, rolling into communities, setting up our projector, showing the film to crowds that averaged 100 people and grew to as many as 500 by the time we were done.

After each screening of the film, we had a conversation with the audience that was powerful and meaningful for both the viewers and us. The conversation around opiate addiction swept across Vermont. People were finally talking about this disease. Family members, addicts, folks in recovery, lawmakers, educators, doctors and business people were seeing the film, participating in the audience conversations and sharing their stories with others.

In January of 2014, The Hungry Heart was honored by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin during his State of the State address. His entire speech was devoted to the opiate epidemic in Vermont. As a result of the Governor’s ambitious initiative to deal with the rising prescription drug and heroin addiction in the state, The Hungry Heart has been featured in numerous national press and media outlets including ABC Evening News, The New York Times, Al Jazeera Television, The Boston Globe, NPR’s On Point, WBUR’s Radio Boston and MSNBC. Since the film’s premiere and the Governor’s call to action, Vermont has taken the lead as they moved away from a criminal focus on drugs to a more progressive focus on addiction recovery.

The Hungry Heart has since toured throughout New England and into the rest of the United States. The film has screened at least 150 times in cities and towns across Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and upstate New York. In addition, The Hungry Heart was presented in Washington, DC, by Senator Patrick Leahy to legislators and policymakers. It has played at many national conferences including the Arkansas Attorney General’s Opiate Summit in Little Rock, the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Rural Health Care Conference in Westford, Massachusetts.

As part of an educational package with an extensive study guide, the film has also played in many middle and high schools in and beyond New England. In addition to these public screenings, The Hungry Heart has been booked by hospitals, universities, libraries, police departments, social service agencies, treatment centers, healthcare agencies, medical schools, community action groups and policymakers.

The film has been lauded by many professionals and writers, including bestselling author David Sheff, who wrote Beautiful Boy, a book about his own son’s addiction. Sheff wrote, “The Hungry Heart is a brilliant and beautiful film that captures the true lives of people in recovery.”

The film has great potential for continued success in many new venues across the country and into Canada. Opiate addiction is unfortunately everywhere; and communities and cities are searching for ways to generate dialogue, open discussion and create change around this challenging issue. The Hungry Heart provides a perfect starting point for discussion and action steps that many of our communities need.

Start the conversation in your area. We’d love to come to your town and share this film. Give me a call at 802.357.4616 or email me at

Bess O’Brien co-founded Kingdom County Productions with her husband Jay Craven in 1990. She is also the director/producer of the highly acclaimed feature film Shout it Out based on the lives of Vermont teens and the original Voices Project live musical.

O’Brien co-produced the feature films Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom. For more information about The Hungry Heart and to see a trailer of the film, please go to


  1. I would not be aware that earn money ceased in place the following, nevertheless i believed this submit was previously great. I do not have an understanding of who you will be even so definitely ensure a new well-known digg should you are certainly not by now video youtube indonesia. Cheers!

  2. 全「身」趨勢!LSD真空無痛技術,無需使用冷凍啫喱,比傳統激光脫毛更安全,更舒適,更快捷。腿部背部永久脫毛,只需15分鐘!最快激光脫毛科技 配以22x35mm 及 9x9mm 治療機頭,比其他品牌之24mm為大,覆蓋肌膚範圍更廣。 因而更能縮短療程時間及次數。專為亞洲皮膚而設 因應不同膚色設定不同能量,無論膚色較深或較白均適用 最舒適及最有效的激光脫毛體驗 (與755nm及1064nm作比較) 設真空脫毛技術 LUMENIS LightSheer® Desire 激光脫毛儀備有真空脫毛技術,令激光能量更集中聚焦,達至更快及更有效之療程效果。

  3. 隨筆分享 實際試色 超乾唇救星的果汁唇- kate幻色持久唇釉 – Chialo in FG ,I’m here! – FashionGuide 華人時尚專業評鑑 因為是隨筆分享,所以真的蠻隨性的寫,讓大家參考一下XDDD真的不是合作文,我覺得這款真的很適合如我超乾唇星人…,

  4. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  5. hello there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise some technical issues using this website, as I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and could damage your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for much more of your respective exciting content. Make sure you update this again soon..

  6. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appeal. I must say you have done a superb job with this. Additionally, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Safari. Outstanding Blog!

  7. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your design. With thanks

  8. We absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content for you personally? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome web log!

  9. I was recommended this website through my cousin. I’m now not sure whether this submit is written through him as no one else realize such targeted approximately my trouble. You are incredible! Thanks!

  10. I do agree with all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  11. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  12. An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing slightly evaluation on this. And he in reality purchased me breakfast as a result of I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If possible, as you become experience, would you thoughts updating your weblog with extra details? It’s extremely helpful for me. Large thumb up for this weblog submit!

  13. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A number of my blog visitors have complained about my site not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any solutions to help fix this issue?

  14. Hey! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? Thank you

  15. I am just writing to make you be aware of of the great experience my friend’s girl found viewing yuor web blog. She figured out such a lot of details, which include what it’s like to have an ideal giving character to let other individuals very easily comprehend specific multifaceted things. You actually exceeded readers’ expectations. Many thanks for providing the great, trusted, revealing and as well as easy thoughts on that topic to Jane.

  16. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s difficult to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and visual appearance. I must say you’ve done a awesome job with this. In addition, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Chrome. Superb Blog!

  17. I was just searching for this info for some time. After six hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your website. I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative web sites in top of the list. Generally the top web sites are full of garbage.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here