"Happy Valley" was the nickname given to Utah County when nearly 90 percent of its population was composed of members of the LDS church. Since then this appellation has been used positively and negatively to refer to the environment created by the morally stringent standards of the LDS church’s members.
Now, local filmmaker Ron Williams is introducing a new meaning for its nickname.
Happy Valley publicly unveils the ignored, not-talked-about prescription and street drug problems in Utah. Williams prefers to call his film a "real-life, true story" because instead of showing just one side to a multi-sided argument, Happy Valley places you in the middle of deeply personal, intimate conversations with users, their friends, their family members and any others affected by the deadly habit.
The film begins with Williams explaining what brought him to making Happy Valley. Because of drug abuse, Williams is a single father. Through addicted friends and family, he’s seen how drugs can affect every aspect of life. His film takes you through the well-weaved web of people he’s known who got caught up in addiction, from friends hiding their prescription drug addiction, to his stepdaughter’s involvement with a friend’s fatal overdose.
Some of the stories told will, without a doubt, have an impact on every Utah viewer because of how close to home it strikes. Two South Jordan parents talk about the fatal overdose of their daughter and how hard it is to forgive the people responsible.
An LDS man talks about hiding his post-accident related addiction to painkillers from his wife and kids. When you realize that they happened in your neighborhood, each one of the several stories told will hit like a ton of bricks.
There are countless forms of societal pressures that could cause one to resort to self-medication for help. At one point in Happy Valley, the religious pressures and standards in Utah are mentioned to be a factor. "I didn’t want [LDS] members to think I was leaning toward anything," explains Williams. "It was just filmed here. … Though the film is set in Utah, this is a story that can be told in any city or state."
While Williams admits that "there is definitely an unacknowledged problem" with substance abuse here in Utah, he found more families interested in telling their stories than he counted on. "While interviewing families alone, we filmed over 50 hours of great footage. And it was the hardest thing trying to decide what to cut of the movie."
"I didn’t make Happy Valley to push the envelope, but to educate and inspire," says Williams. "As my ex-wife went through the rehab process, I decided to document it in order to help other. … Currently, there’s a seven to nine month wait to get into local rehabs. … Proceeds from (HAPPY VALLEY) will go toward helping those wanting help."
No matter where you stand or what you believe about the issue at hand, Happy Valley is a film worth investing 90 minutes of your time in. Though on more of a downer level, the payoff from the experience in whole is completely worth it. The film accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: educates and inspires.