Still Home

The story of East Liverpool, Ohio and how it went from a shining exemplary American town to the center of the opioid epidemic.

  • Keenan Wetzel
  • Jesse Ford
  • Shane Ford
  • Keenan Wetzel
  • Shane Ford
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Short Doc, Short Film, Documentary
  • Runtime:
    32 minutes 1 second
  • Completion Date:
    March 10, 2020
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Arri Alexa
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Cannes 2020 Young Director Award

Director Biography - Keenan Wetzel

From a young age, Keenan would accompany his mother to the public access television station where she volunteered, and take notes from the station veterans about the magic of VHS recording. As he grew older, he continued his love for filmmaking by creating music videos starring his somewhat willing younger brother.

A unique combination of art kid and athlete growing up, his two passions met at Michigan State University where Keenan played varsity basketball for four years including a Final Four trip his senior season.

Keenan now works as a filmmaker focusing on visually compelling storytelling in both the narrative and commercial spaces.

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Director Statement

East Liverpool, Ohio, is a strange amalgamation of the Midwest and Appalachia that rose along the Ohio River as the preeminent pottery town in the United States. It was also a town I grew up going to frequently as a child as it was my father’s hometown. My grandmother, Alta, was a resident there her entire adult life.

Once a vibrant and shining reminder of the manufacturing prowess of the Midwest, East Liverpool was an exemplar US city. Indeed the American dream.

Year by year, that began to fade away. The once beautiful city nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains was now deteriorating slowly, but steadily. Regardless of the state of the town and its regression, it held a special place in my heart.

So when I first started hearing the city of only ten thousand residents mentioned on the national news in connection to the opioid crisis sweeping across the country, my heart sank. Describe as one of the epicenters of the epidemic, I read and watched news media from all over the country roll thru the city depicting just how bad it was in East Liverpool. People were dying by the hundreds. Death, poverty, and dilapidation.

Only for the national media, that’s where the story stops. They have neither the time nor compassion to give a holistic view into a crisis. In a world of immediacy, they move on. However, the people of the cities -- They do not.

This prompted my decision to speak to the people of East Liverpool and view the city through their eyes. With no commentary or editorialization. Sure, I had my theories on how this had happened. How a town like East Liverpool could have fallen so far to have its elderly citizens selling pills to make rent, while many young and old alike fall victim to the erroneous escape that these drugs provide. But outside theories are inadequate.

So there we went. Using my father’s long-time friends as the first point of contact, we explored the city as wanderers. Passing through a town that seemed almost ghostly. What we found was a spirit of resilience. Not perfect, certainly doubt was abundant, but none the less stringent.

The people of East Liverpool opened their city and their hearts to us. We went to church with them, met the mayor on a random encounter, and went on police ride alongs by merely wandering. The people opened their city to us. Wanting their history shared, their present corrected, and their future discussed.

Still Home is not a film about the problem or the solution. It’s not a quick snapshot of the worst of us. It’s a film about home.

We have a connection to the places we come from. A strange kinship that is undeniable. Providing visceral nostalgic feelings that make you literally feel the powerful emotion. So one can’t just give up on home. Letting the past rot. We must evaluate where we are and where we are going. No matter how bad it gets.

As Jason, a school teacher in East Liverpool told us, “No matter how far you go or how bad it gets, it’s still home.”

I was not willing to accept the short-handed view of the city. Instead, we set out to create a film that could put the viewer on the same journey we went on.

What we found was so much more than just a segment. The people of the small cities may be down on their luck, but they not ready to give up on home.

Because home represents family -- And that, is all we really have.