With so much focus on the opioid addiction that’s swept the nation, producers of a new documentary-style drama are seeking to shed more light on the growing problem as the film is set to make its debut at the New York Latino Film Festival next week.
Directed by popular actor Shiek Mahmud-Bey and written by Mahmud-Bey and Steven Williams, “The Inner Circle” is set in an in-patient rehab program and demonstrates how through intense group therapy, members of different races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and generations sometimes bond over the one thing they have in common: addiction.
“Paris [Jones, the film’s co-creator] and I set a goal of shooting the pilot in its entirety, in only four days. There was no compromise in accomplishing this goal,” Mahmud-Bey said. “We did not want to just create a sizzle reel. We both were willing to take a chance and were very clear about our mission.”
The creators enlisted Craig Harmer as director of photography and David Fienup was chosen for sound.
“Then there was casting. We cast the show in two days and we were very specific,” said Mahmud-Bey, whose long-list of credentials include “Night Falls on Manhattan,” a 1996 film loosely based on the infamous Bronx shootout between suspected drug dealer Larry Davis and New York City police.
In that drama, many witnessed Mahmud-Bey at his best, even outshining others in the film that included Andy Garcia, James Gandolfini and Richard Dreyfus.
The Brooklyn-born actor even managed to upstage Denzel Washington’s big screen performance of boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter with a brilliant off-Broadway depiction of the boxer in “The Way Out.”
“I needed actors who could take notes and were committed. The chosen actors were given scripts and had two weeks to prepare,” Mahmud-Bey said of “The Inner Circle.”
“During the actor’s preparation period, Paris and I were introduced to Mr. Andre Johnson, CEO of Detroit Recovery Center; an introduction made possible by actress Whitney Johnson. Mr. Johnson being a huge support to us, arranged for the cast to go to group meetings and talk to people who are in recovery,” he said.
As director, Mahmud-Bey wanted to create an environment where the actors could live as the characters and it was imperative that the characters portrayed were genuine and that the actors felt confident enough to trust their choices, he said.
Mahmud-Bey said “The Inner Circle” proved to be one of the most exciting shoots he’d ever been a part of.
The hourlong drama, which is currently being shopped to HBO, Netflix and others, is a true and gritty look at how substance abuse reaches across ethnicity, class, gender and age groups.
Set in hardscrabble Detroit, the series takes a fresh perspective of how the abuse of drugs and alcohol is costly for our society and, left untreated, places a burden on the workplace, health care system and many communities.
“The Inner Circle” depicts the suffering of patients and their loved ones, and Mahmud-Bey said each episode brings audiences deeper into each of the member’s lives and closer to understanding their pain as well as the circumstances that led them to rock bottom.
While the drama symbolizes the patients in the group, it also represents the inner circle of deep, debilitating pain that addicts cover up with layers of denial, lies, and self-loathing.
The resulting compulsive behaviors, which the members sometimes can no longer control, lead them to rehab, some by choice, some by family interventions and some by court order.
“Many people assume that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs if they wanted to,” said Mahmud-Bey, who plays Dr. Benjamin Taylor, a seemingly calm and in-control therapist with the quiet confidence of a self-made man and the swagger of someone who has achieved his goals.
Dr. Taylor operates a drug rehab facility that will eventually come to house a superstar shortstop, an A-list Hollywood actress and others. But, as Dr. Taylor seeks to help his “Inner Circle” of clients, there’s a more personal battle on the home front with his 18-year-old daughter, played by Whitney Johnson, and her divisive grandmother.
“Several contributing factors may be the cause of substance abuse, such as environment and genetics, which makes quitting difficult. This makes spreading information about the biological, environmental and developmental complexities of drug addiction, along with prevention and treatment initiatives, an imperative,” said Mahmud-Bey, who’s also working on a new talk show that he created, “Psychological Perspectives with Doc B.”
The talk show features Detroit psychologist Dr. LaSonia Barlow, who has worked extensively with those suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues.
Barlow was also psychological consultant on the show who helped Mahmud-Bey with his character on “The Inner Circle.”
Among the topics that the talk show will include is the use of the controversial AIDS drug Truvada and children of incarcerated parents.
The talk show and the new drama about addiction fit neatly in what’s already shaping up to be a busy year for the actor.
“It’s going to be my year,” he said. “I’ve got a lot going on but these are important projects and if I don’t help people to evolve and grow, than I’ve failed as an artist.”
Mahmud-Bey’s company of artists, “The Char’Actors,” consist of actors, directors, cinematographers, producers and writers. The group just wrapped “The Dilemma,” a Mahmud-Bey-directed film about a schizophrenic young woman’s fight for sanity, which is currently in preproduction.
That drama will be followed by “Worthy of Love,” a touching story about an orphan sister’s search for love but having to realize that love starts from within.
Screening at the festival is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. For more details, go to, http://nylatinofilmfestival.com/2017/futuro-digital-conference.
View the trailer for “The Inner Circle” below: