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Arts and Entertainment

Bill W. documentary at CIFF
The life of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
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In The Region:

A documentary at the Cleveland International Film Festival this week will garner some local interest because part of it is set in Akron. But it will have a much deeper connection to another group of people from all over the world – alcoholics.

“Bill W” is the story of one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson.  WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports that his story didn’t end when he stopped drinking.

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Drinking was a burden for Bill Wilson. But when he quit, he took up a new burden.

That’s the story that directors Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino tell in their film “Bill W.” They didn’t set out to tell this story; they just wanted to make a film. But as Hanlon happened to be reading the history of Alcoholics Anonymous he realized there was a good story to tell.

The two AA founders were Dr. Bob Smith of Akron and Bill Wilson, a businessman in New York. The filmmakers decided to focus on Wilson, and they had hundreds of tape recordings of his speeches to use.

Wilson had done well on Wall Street by investigating companies and selling information to brokers. But he was a drunk, and even with the loyal support of his wife Lois, he could not get off the bottle. The stock market crash of 1929 knocked him down but it was his addiction that kept him down.  On a business trip to Akron a deal fell through and he was on the edge of reaching for a drink.

Wilson famously began making phone calls, hoping to find a fellow alcoholic to help him.  He was put in touch with Henrietta Seiberling who invited him to her house – the gate house at Stan Hywet. And that became the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous on Mother’s Day 1935.  She introduced him to her friend Dr. Bob Smith, an alcoholic who needed help even more than Bill W.  The two men formed the organization and wrote its guiding principles.

Many, if not most, of the people in the documentary are alcoholics themselves. Their identity is hidden --  their stories, personal. 

AA member:  "They'd come pick me up and take me to a meeting and I'd walk out the back door.  I wouldnt stay for the meeting I was just trying to get a ride across town. I'd try to get money off of them. They'd make me take a shower because apparently I stunk too bad to go to a meeting... And every day they'd pick me up. They'd act like that was the first time I was going to get sober. They never got sick of me; they never acted like I was wearing them out."

Bill W. spent the rest of his life leading AA even though he'd like to have simply gone back to a life in business. The responsibilities and the lack of took its toll on him and the lack of adequate pay took a toll on him.  For his selfless service to the cause Wilson was adored by AA members.

The documentary, “Bill W.,” is showing at the Cleveland International Film Festival. 


Related Links & Resources
Bill W. the documentary

Bill W. and Dr Bob - the play

The site at Stan Hywet

Listener Comments:

Gracias por todo !

Posted by: A.Non-E-Mous (Arlington,WA) on June 17, 2012 3:06AM
Hi all. I find it hard to express my gratitude in words about how i feel regarding our fellowship and our founders, so im 'Into Action' and keep into service. One of the services i am happy to do is Archivist for my area.I will look forwad to seeing the new documentry.God Bless you all.LITF

Posted by: Cushty Shaun (East Kent U K) on May 16, 2012 9:05AM
What Bill and Bob have done for millions of alcoholics is a miracle inspired by a Higher Power. 23 years ago I walked through these doors of AA and pray I never leave. My life has completely changed (for the good). I got to witness my child marry, see a grandson come in the family and graduate college due to being able to stay sober and learn to live differently in AA.

I cannot wait to see this film. Hope it comes out all over the USA so I can see it too. We owe our lives to Bill Wilson's personal sacrifice to bring this program into being.

Posted by: Rene (St. Louis MO) on May 3, 2012 3:05AM
One year ago i went to a recovery center for alcohol abuse. I spent 28 days in and have learned so much about Bill W.and Dr. Bob. My partner and soulmate of 30 years went in the day i left and just took his one year cake this morning. I am so proud to be a recovering alcoholic. To be willing to learn all the knowledge and change my (our) lives with the 12 step program. To have the serenity prayer to say when times get tough. Also i love the AA meetings and am so grateful that we have such great sobriety in our city. THANKS to you for all the positive things said about AA.and keep up the wonderful work. This program is truly a dream come true in our lives. Its One Day At A Time. We are now venturing out to help our fellow alcoholics. God Bless us all for Bill W and Dr. Bob and their families for this MIRACLE.<3

Posted by: Maureen Cherris (Kamloops B.C.) on April 29, 2012 6:04AM

Posted by: Della (Chicago) on April 27, 2012 9:04AM
I have been sober, one day at a time, since 11-25-1990, by God's grace and because AA works! 100%, guaranteed, without fail, Alcoholics Anonymous cannot fail. People fail in their attempts, but the program itself is flawless. Study of the hisotry of AA and Bill's writings reveals God's hand throughout, as no human could have conceived it all so perfectly. Whether an individual becomes willing to fully avail themselves of all that God can do through practice of AA's principles, now that's another story. Thank God I had a bottom in my life sufficient to recover from the seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I never have to live that way again, and today I am happy, joyous, and free from the bondage of self. Thank you God for the gift!

Posted by: Debi U (South Texas) on April 26, 2012 4:04AM
I just finished "Pass it on", a remarkable story of Bill and Lois,there live togeather as AA was formed. Lois was an amazing, patient, and loving person, who really stood by Her Man!
I am so lucky to be sober today, thanks to this Fellowship.

Posted by: JIM L (three Bridges, N.J.) on April 15, 2012 11:04AM
I have lived in sobreity since July25, 1998. I must admit that being bi-polar and sober can be one hell of a task. I do understand why it can be so hard to live sober but sometimes battling other demons in my life. Sometimes "half measures availed us nothing"slips right out of my mind. But most of the time, AA gives me a better chance to live with all the normal people out in the world. My Dad died at 5yrs. Sober. Right now I wanna live sober before I die sober. Thank you to all that has worked the program before me and to all who walk the same line with me. Thank you.

Posted by: Vaughn M. (Las Vegas) on April 15, 2012 5:04AM
AA has taught me the joy of living each sober day, one day at a time. I am truly grateful to the founders for taking the time and effort into creating AA. AA is teaching me how to have loving relationships. How to be of service. How to reach out to the next suffering alcoholic and has freed me from "the bondage of self". I have a little over 5 years now. Thank you AA!! Can't wait to see the movie.

Posted by: Cecilia L (Oakland, NJ) on April 11, 2012 10:04AM
Many thanks for the insight into the history of our collective past as members of this remarkable fellowship we find ourselves entwined with....

Posted by: Bob C (Oceanside, CA) on April 9, 2012 11:04AM
when I read the big book or the 12 and 12 I am shocked at how they knew all about me and my character defects so many years ago..especially since I was not aware of them until I surrendered in AA and asked for help and got a sponsor.I will celebrate 34 years on April 21...thanx to a gift from God, A strong wife and a lot of support.

Posted by: renz (scottsdale) on April 7, 2012 5:04AM
I am looking forward to seeing the movie with AA friends. I came to AA to get sober and have remained so for 31 years but that was almost insignificant compared to my introduction to a God as I understand him.

Posted by: Steve Ellingboe (Buhler, Kansas) on April 3, 2012 7:04AM
Thanks Dr. Bob and Bill W. A special guest star thank you award to God for putting these two men together to save millions of lives and bring our savior into so many hearts.

Posted by: Jeff (Omaha) on April 3, 2012 5:04AM
While I'm looking forward to seeing this documentary, I must admit that I don't understand how members of Alcoholics Anonymous can speak of their love for the fellowship or the 12 Traditions in one keystroke and in the next keystroke break their anonymity at this level of media because our anonymity IS the spiritual foundation of it ALL.

Posted by: Anonymous (US) on April 2, 2012 11:04AM
Alcoholics anonymous has been the greatest gift from God I have ever experienced, ask my children and family! Thank you Bill and Dr. Bob !

Posted by: Doug J (Redmond OR) on April 2, 2012 11:04AM
I never realized that life is meant to be this good! I have been fortunate to meet people in different cities, states

Posted by: Cathi F (South Amboy, NJ) on April 2, 2012 10:04AM
I believe AA is the greatest movement in the history of the world. AA has helped millions of people

Posted by: Mike T (Westborough, MA) on April 2, 2012 10:04AM
Very, very good. Fantastic!

Posted by: Eloy Toledo (Santos, SP, Brazil) on April 2, 2012 10:04AM
AA not only saved my life but taught me how to live .with 18 years of sobriety life has never been so good , I am filled with graditude on a daily basis for this program .Hope to view your film it could help many

Posted by: Ross S (Montreal Canada) on April 2, 2012 2:04AM
Nice post Jett! Lets get this movie to Scottsdale, Im sure we can fill a theater or two!

Posted by: Mark L (Scottsdale, Az) on April 1, 2012 8:04AM
My father who is deceased died with 47 yrs of continuous sobriety. We grew up in South Shaftsbury Vermont next to Bill's home in East Dorset. VT and had relatives in St Johnsbury VT next to Dr Bob's home. I am one of 8 children. Four boys and four girls My 59 yr old brother (I am 60) and I have 57 yrs of sobriety between us. AA saved out father, out family and our lives. I am so grateful to God for Dr. Bob and Bill W.
WE CANT WAIT TO SEE THE DOCUMENTARY How can we bring it to Scottsdale, AZ

Posted by: Jett Holland on April 1, 2012 5:04AM
Thank you for your positive take on AA. Quite often, the historical reality of this movement and its significants on a global scale is lost to the drama of the drunk's individual story. The 12 Traditions is just one of his legacies to humanity. Even more profound is the alleviation of human suffering in the millions. Second, which is equally on the same scale as any Deity's writings or words in theology - the nurturing development of individual empathy world wide.... A much needed human character trait, if we are to evolve into something other then, our present state of self seeking grandiosity.

Posted by: Tom Jackson (Ojai, Ca.) on March 31, 2012 6:03AM
well done!!!

Posted by: Rochelle (western Ma) on March 31, 2012 5:03AM
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