ABOUT THE FILM
Erin Jacobs is a street-smart cocaine addict living life by her own rules. She is a talented painter who has lost her drive to paint as her drive for the coke-induced high that she loves takes over. The film opens on Erin finishing the last of her cocaine when a knock on the door interrupts her solo party. She flippantly answers a line of questions about a noise complaint that two officers throw her way before getting off with a warning.
Later that day, as Erin is heading to a party, she notices one of the cops following her, but manages to lose the tail. After a night of drugs, booze, and sex, she arranges some work at the leather shop that intermittently employs her. Her boss, Elizabeth, is a successful musician and jewelry designer who has found the perfect balance between her success and her own addictions, and warns that Erin better do the same.
As Erin is replenishing her stash the next day, the cop who tailed her, Valerie, busts Erin. The two engage in a heated exchange, during which we learn that Val and Erin have a past history. We subsequently learn that Valerie has been in AA for three years, and as she continues to fight her own personal demons, her husband, Jeff, becomes less patient with her growing obsession with Erin.
In the meantime, Elizabeth invites Erin to a party, where a high society patroness of the arts commissions Erin to paint. Erin seems to be on the fast track to success, but an unforeseen event will bring everything to a halt. At the same time, Valerie and Jeff’s marriage hits the rocks and tempts Valerie to toss sobriety aside for the familiar comfort of the bottle.
As Erin reels from tragedy, she musters the fleeting strength to go to rehab, where she meets a tough-as-nails, but genuinely caring counselor, Dr. Corrie Richardson, and a fellow patient, Huck, who try to convince Erin that sobriety is a far better choice than the path she's been on. Valerie, meanwhile, returns to AA and tries to mend old wounds with Jeff.
After a complicated family therapy session and 90 days of group meetings and therapy sessions, Erin emerges from rehab, but will it stick or will she be right back to her old friends and her old ways as soon as life gets tough? And will returning to meetings and focusing on herself give Valerie the balance that she needs to avoid temptation, or will she go back down the rabbit hole, sacrificing her marriage and family in the process?
why this story?
Penumbra deals with an extremely pertinent issue—addiction— and the various ways that society deals with this affliction. Right before we started developing Penumbra, Chelese had a family member die of complications from a life of drug use, and much of the familial sentiment in the film comes from feelings that she wrestled with after his death—feelings of guilt over the relief that the struggle was over, feelings of deep sadness and of regret at a life wasted. The script is also based on deeply personal stories that we compiled from peers, family members, therapists, law enforcement officers, and addicts themselves. We want our audience to walk out considering the toll it takes on not just the addict, but those who love the addict as well. There is often a societal stigma attached to one’s struggle with addiction, and what we hope to convey is that this struggle is a disease, no matter one’s race, gender, income level, etc.
Addiction is unbiased, ubiquitous, and often deadly, and we aim to show the struggle that many endure while trying to break free of its grasp, as well as the struggle of all those around the addict. Drug use is fairly regularly depicted in films and on television, but the effect that addiction has on the family and friends is something that we felt was lacking in cinema.
In addition, one of the defining elements of Beleeve is that it is a film company created and run by two women, and one of the key elements of Penumbra is that it filled with strong female characters, all of whom struggle with, and many of whom overcome the various challenges in their lives. The two Protagonists, and twenty-three Speaking Roles out of thirty-eight (61%) belong to women, in addition to being directed by a woman and produced by a woman. Women are on the screen for the vast majority of the film, influencing the events, and playing key roles in all of the characters’ lives.