Bill W.'s First-Time Filmmakers on The Anonymous Alcoholic Who Created the 12 Steps

Read Cultist's review of Bill W.

Dan Carracino and Kevin Hanlon were friends who played with the idea of making a movie for years. But when they actually sat down and got to it, the result was far from playful screenplay.

Instead, they spent eight years creating Bill W., a documentary that follows the life of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder and author of the 12 steps Bill Wilson.

Now, as the film tours the United States, including a second run at O Cinema starting July 6, the pair speaks with Cultist about their serious first-ever production.

Cultist: This is your first film. Why choose this subject matter?
Hanlon: Dan and I have been friends for a very, very long time and we've always had this idea of making a film in the back of our minds. Eight years ago, however, Dan got really serious about it. And at the time, I was reading Not God, a fascinating story about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. I told Dan if I was going to make this commitment, I wanted it to be about that.

Carracino: Before we really looked into it, I wasn't aware Bill Wilson died in 1971, 40 years prior to when we were starting. That information made us realize the window on people who knew Bill was closing, and how important it was to record their stories before it was too late.

The film seems so personal.
Carracino: We both have connections to AA, even though neither of us have ever been a part of it, but it's in the family, so to speak. In making the film, there were over 400 people involved, and few didn't know someone affected by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Was it a difficult decision to include the more negative details of Bill's life in the film?
Hanlon: Dan and I both feel very strongly that Bill Wilson was one of the most important people of the 20th century, despite being not widely known. We wanted to be honest about the person he was. Actually, we would have found it harder to not be 100 percent honest in the delivery. We don't agree that the "negatives" are necessarily negatives. They are just parts of the truth about a hero.

What response were you looking to get?
Carracino: Basically, we were really trying to just get the story out there; Bill Wilson did such a great job of retaining his anonymity. Most people know of AA, they know of the 12 steps, but we wanted to let them know the interesting guy behind there. There aren't a lot of real-life characters who lived a life of total service, who dedicated themselves completely to a cause.

For a film all about anonymity, you sure got a lot of people to talk to you on camera. How did you manage to do that?
Hanlon: The first thing we tried to do was find people still alive who knew Bill Wilson. When we did find people, it took a while to gain their trust. But eventually they realized we respected the traditions of AA and opened up to us. Then, by word of mouth, we'd meet more and more people, who'd ask us "Have you talked to so-and-so? They'd be perfect for this."

Why the decision to leave and then revisit Miami?
Hanlon: Right now the film is entering its seventh week in New York, L.A., and Orange County, Ca. In Miami, [O Cinema] would have kept the movie there, but scheduling is complicated when you're not a mainstream film....
Carracino: ...Since it's not a major studio release we don't get the lion's share they do. We had to start in New York and L.A. and work week to week. After other locations see how it fits well there, theaters are less anxious to host us.

Can we expect to see any more films from you two?
Carracino: Ask us that after we get this out into the world!
Hanlon: Yea, and hopefully we don't follow the Harper Lee model. Although, if I can go out as the To Kill a Mockingbird of documentaries, I'd be pretty O.K. with it.
Carracino: Right now, we're focusing on getting this out there.

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