In an alternate universe, one where she didn’t go to Maryville College, Andi Morrow might very well have lived a life parallel to that of Brittany Lee, the character she plays in the short film “Pusher.”
And, she told me this week, there’s no doubt in her mind that without the education and artistic background she was exposed to during her time as a student of MC, she wouldn’t have been able to write, direct and produce “Pusher,” which had its world premiere last month at the Pasadena (Calif.) International Film Festival, and its premiere in her home state last weekend at the Chattanooga Film Festival.
“I carry a lot with me that I learned in Maryville, and I feel like sometimes I should be a poster child for Maryville College, because I adamantly believe they set me on this path,” she said. “From Day 1, they were so open about you trying new things, and they don’t hold their students back from being involved in multiple activities. A lot of schools told me there would be no way I could do both theater and soccer, but Maryville College was the first school to tell me, ‘Absolutely! You can do even more than that, if you want!’”
I first met Andi during her senior year in 2009, when for her senior project, she adapted the seminal Vietnam War collection “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien. She struck me then as a thoughtful young woman with a keen understanding of how theater and film, while useful and necessary forms of entertainment, have the capability of broaching difficult-to-talk-about subjects — like addiction, which is the focus of “Pusher.”
The film is a glimpse into the life of a small-town pill dealer. From resupplying with a reluctant acquaintance to going to church with her grandmother to the dawning realization of how many lives her activities have helped destroy, it’s a searing portrait of the desperate measures called for by desperate times.
“I grew up in Scott County, so I know a lot of people who have struggled with addiction, as well a lot of my friends, and I know a lot of people my age who have died,” she said. “Through time, I’ve watched my community kind of deteriorate in a lot of ways, with young people disappearing and becoming shells of themselves. Except for me, it was from an outsider’s perspective, because I left to go to college and never really moved back.
“I watched it happen from this bird’s-eye view almost, gradually realizing, ‘Oh my God, this could have easily happened to me.’ I was pretty wild in high school, and I experimented with drugs. And it doesn’t matter what your background is or who your family is, because addiction can get you.”
“Pusher” grew out of a period of depression for Morrow, when she was living in New York with her husband, comedian Drew Morgan. To push through, she summoned the determination to write a script, and once the plot began to coalesce into actual words on the page, she completed it within a week. From that point on, it seemed like fate propelled “Pusher” into reality, she said.
“That got the juices flowing and got me out of my head, and it helped me to remember that as an artist, I have a responsibility to use my craft and my art for something bigger than me,” she said.
Shortly after the script’s completion, she and Morgan moved briefly back to East Tennessee (they’re now at home on the West Coast), and an Indiegogo fundraiser netted almost $12,000 toward production costs. Late last summer, she and her collaborators filmed “Pusher” in Morgan and Scott counties, and the entire process was seamless.
“It all fell into place, and it just seemed so perfect that it helped me remember that this is something bigger than me,” she said. “Throughout the whole process, I’ve been constantly in awe, and I’ve come to realize that this story needs to be told. It’s not about me, because it’s bigger than me. I knew I wanted to tell a story about the communities I’m from, and to inspire some dialogue and conversation about this problem. I felt kind of helpless, until I realized that even though I don’t know how to help the situation, I know I can use art to get people thinking and talking about it.”
It’ll be difficult, for the time being, for fans and interested parties to get a look at “Pusher.” Until it makes the rounds on the film festival circuit, it won’t be available on digital streaming platforms. She does, however, want to put together a special premiere in her hometown of Huntsville, Tennessee, and she’s crossing her fingers that “Pusher” will be one of the films accepted for screening at the Knoxville Film Festival, scheduled for Sept. 13-15 at Regal Downtown West Cinema 8.
But while showing it to a crowd of old friends and familiar faces will doubtlessly be sweet, there are greater forces at work in the telling of this tale, she added.
“My whole hope is that, more than anything, younger people in Appalachia can see this, and it will get them thinking that, ‘Maybe my actions do affect other people,’ or, ‘Maybe I should value my own dreams,’” she said.
For more information about the film, the cast and future screenings, visit the website at www.pusherfilm.com.