In May 2006, Paul Perrier was presented with a swag bag. Inside was an Oprah ball cap, an Oprah T-shirt and an Oprah mug. Today, that mug is cracked and a little broken.
The Toronto filmmaker had landed a coveted appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show because of his documentary Cracked, Not Broken, an unflinching look at the life of an addict, filmed in a sparse hotel room in Toronto.
In the doc, a woman named Lisa — a childhood friend of Perrier's wife — speaks openly about her crack-cocaine addiction, prostitution and her fall from a comfortable life. She agreed to make the film as a wake-up call to herself — if the birth of her first child hadn't pushed her to recover, perhaps this project would, she reasoned.
Lisa had been sober for only 16 days when she and Perrier appeared on Oprah for an episode about prostitution. Their appearance drew widespread, instantaneous attention to Cracked, Not Broken, which had been turned down by every broadcaster in Canada. It lead to a deal with HBO Films and distribution with a Canadian television network. Cracked became the first Canadian documentary picked up by hulu.com and has now been viewed more than a million times.
But Perrier says the experience certainly wasn't all rainbows and kittens.
Firstly, it was clear to him that Winfrey hadn't seen the film. Since the show's subject was prostitution, the host went hard at Lisa, drilling her for details about johns and tricks and not much else. Winfrey didn't say hello or goodbye to Perrier and there also wasn't a single question directed at the filmmaker.
Perrier and Lisa left with a bad taste in their mouths. He wasn't sure if it was worth it. Looking back, he admits to being angry about it for several years, until he had a minor revelation: an "A-ha moment" in Oprah parlance.
"She's human," he says. "Maybe she was having an off day."
Still, the appearance — with the vast number of eyeballs that were trained on the film — sent the project on a journey that continues to this day.
Cracked, Not Broken was recently screened for Grade 7 students. The film doesn’t condescend, so the pre-teen audience was left to form its own conclusions about life choices and the paths along which they lead us — a topic worthy of any good artist.
Today, Lisa has been sober for more than three years. She has distanced herself from the film since, in the past, the process of promoting it has derailed her recovery. But she finished college and takes it one day at a time.