April 24 2013 12:00 AM

Documentary about AA founder gets local special engagement

How do you make a documentary film about a person who spent his life diligently avoiding the camera, denying even Time magazine so much as a shot of the back of his head? Filmmakers Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino of Page 124 Productions set the bar pretty high for themselves by choosing to tell the life story of Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, for their debut endeavor, “Bill W.”  

“We knew it was going to be hard to find visual stuff — he was good about being anonymous,” said Hanlon, in a phone interview from his New York office. “But he left behind a very rich audio archive of his speeches at public gatherings. We made a conscious decision to just let Wilson tell the story himself — we let him be his own narrator.”  

In “Bill W.,” the filmmakers then play audio recordings of Wilson over recently discovered photos. 

“We got very lucky on some of those pictures,” Hanlon said.  “I went to Vermont, to the town where Bill went to high school, and found the son of a woman who had been one of Bill’s classmates in 1912. I asked what I thought was a foolish question, if he had any photos, but he took down a photo album, and there were pictures of Bill as a junior in high school. We had a lot of these wonderful finds.” 

Taylor Swan, who is on the board of the National Council on Alcoholismm, was instrumental in bringing the film to Lansing. He saw the film advertised for a theater in the metro Detroit area, but it was gone before he could catch it.  He did an Internet search and contacted Hanlon and Carracino, who allowed him to do a screening of it at Celebration! Cinema.   

“I’ve seen it three times, but I’m really looking forward to seeing it in the company of others,” Swan said. “It’s going to be a very moving experience for everyone in that theater. I wept when I saw it — I had no idea (Wilson) sacrificed so much.” 

Swan, who’s been sober for 12 years, said he thinks this film will speak to more than just those in recovery. 

“I think this will appeal to anyone who had an interest in social history,” he said. “Until this man came along, people were dying horrible deaths. From the time man crushed grapes until 1939, this was our fate. A lot of people got their fathers, husbands, children back because of Bill. He saved a lot of our lives.” 

“Bill W.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Celebration! Cinema
200 E. Edgewood Blvd., Lansing
(517) 393-7469