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|February 19-25, 2009
Hazed and confused
Documentary focuses on alcohol-related death at CU
by P.J. Nutting
Do you wonder why college students party every weekend?
Other people are pondering that question, even if the students themselves have never considered it. Most of these ponderers have never heard of pre-gaming, don’t know about playing Thumper, and are mostly unaware of the many facets of drinking culture students have picked up since moving to Boulder. The college party ritual may seem normal to the students, but health officials and administrators are baffled.
There’s no doubt that students use alcohol as a social lubricant and an antidote for the stressful rigors of academia, but many incapable of stopping when the party gets dangerous. That is the focus of Haze, a documentary about the wild excesses of modern college drinking. It is an un-narrated collage of professional interviews, ambulance ride-alongs, basement fraternity tapes and bootleg footage of college drinking, ranging from the campuses of Ivy League institutions like Harvard to party-hearty ASU. But the film’s greatest strength is that it ties all these elements to Boulder’s campus and the fraternity death that made it infamous, the 2004 passing of freshman Gordie Bailey.
Directed by Pete Schuermann and produced by Michael and Leslie Lanahan (Gordie’s parents), Haze shows brutally real footage of nasty falls, nearly naked blackouts and shots of human blood, while simultaneously telling the story of how one promising, seemingly invincible freshman died in his first month of college. The iGeneration is drinking harder than ever, and though CU’s riot years peaked during the late ’90s, the dangerous binging habits of students have not shown signs of slowing down.
The film includes the same statistics that are taught in post-Minor in Possession alcohol classes: that alcohol leads to thousands of deaths a year, many more assaults and rapes, and countless injuries. Those who have received underage drinking tickets may nod their heads when the film states that 44 percent of college students are at the highest strata of alcohol abuse, and they might even agree with the most radical interviewed professionals, who believe that alcohol is the root of all societal evils. But these factoids are not what define Haze. Its strength lies not in what it answers for oblivious, concerned parents, but what questions it creates for the young men and women defining the college lifestyle.
Haze was recently featured at the Denver Film Society’s DocNight, and Schuermann said in a phone interview that most of the audience was of parenting age, far older than the subjects of the film. “The questions they typically asked was, ‘What can be done about teenage drinking?’” said Schuermann. “I had a hard time coming up with an answer because, well, there are no available answers. A lot of people want to point fingers at one another about this issue, but the point is that no one really has a handle on this problem.”
“I want documentaries to raise questions, not answer them,” said Lisa Kennedy, film critic for the Denver Post and host of DocNight, “and this one did a great job because these were questions that college-age kids aren’t asking themselves.”
Schuermann agreed that the film was primarily made for those who won’t see it. “The purpose was not to have Jerry Springer say at the end, ‘Well, what did we learn today?’” he said about the preachy factor of the documentary. “The movie offered facts, but it was more about showing the environment so we can learn what is self-evident.”
College students already know about keg stands, shot skis and slapping the bag, and if Haze presented nothing but tidbits of drinking culture, college students would not need to see it. The facts and warnings in the film become redundant as university administrators create mandatory alcohol classes and give exemptions from punishment if one calls an ambulance for a drunken friend. But Haze contains another ingredient that is extremely relevant to young party-goers: introspection. It paints a tough picture of a generation that riots against last-call instead of social inequality, a generation that increasingly normalizes alcohol-related hospital visits and self-destructs every weekend with methodical intent. Haze presents an opportunity for the average undergrad to view their party habits through a sober camera lens, and, more importantly, a reason to watch out for themselves and their friends, because irresponsible peers and clueless adults may not.
On the Bill:
For more information about Haze, go to www.hazethemovie.com. To watch the documentary for free online, go to www.snagfilms.com/films/title/haze.
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