A few choice words with BBC documentarian and former opiate addict David Graham Scott.
From David Graham Scott’s website: He has experience in directing, pitching new ideas, researching and DV camera operation. He is also a trained film archivist and a university graduate in Film Theory/Art History.
David has worked on hard-hitting projects including WireBurners, Detox or Die and The Dirty Digger. His films have aired across the BBC at both local (BBC Scotland) and national (network) level.
C.A. Seller: Your famous documentary Detox or Die has sold out theaters, can you tell readers what Iboga is?
David Graham Scott:In 2000 my brother sent me some literature he’d come across in New York where he lives. It was about a bizarre African plant root called iboga tabernanthe that was used for shamanic purposes by initiates within the Bwiti religion. It was oddly found to reduce withdrawal symptoms in addicts and an underground network of providers had started up. There were two forms of the substance mainly used by these providers; a more raw form of the plant called iboga and a refined psychoactive element of this called ibogaine.
I attended an ibogaine conference in London in 2001 and met a guy in London who was doing treatments. It was 2 years of decision making before I finally committed to doing an ibogaine treatment and I decided to make a film about it.
I read that iboga (or ibogaine in its more refined form) can seriously diminish withdrawal after a 36 hour psychedelic trip. It works on the level of soul-searching journey (like weeks of psychotherapy in one night) and physically interacting with the brain’s functioning to lessen withdrawal. It sounded like a Godsend and I just had to go for it. The downside was there had been a few fatalities associated with ibogaine ingestion.
Being a documentary filmmaker with a few serious films under my belt I thought it was worth recording the experience. Perhaps a film could be built around the event and that’s exactly what I did. The result was a great success and to this very day I get a great deal of feedback on the BBC broadcast and award-winning documentary, Detox or Die. It definitely has made its mark on the world and will undoubtedly live on well beyond my finite existence.
CA.: Detox or Die follows you through withdrawal from opiates and your experience with Ibogaine, did you experience the visions very common among users of Ibogaine?
DGS: Like most psychedelic experiences these are very difficult to explain in the limitation of written words. I did, however, write down my psychedelic experience with ibogaine shortly after the event. It is as follows:
“My Ibogaine Experience:
21st/22nd August 2003
This is an account of my experiences of the drug ibogaine. At the time I was a long-term user of methadone linctus. I found it impossible to deal with the hellish withdrawal symptoms experienced in trying to come off. I hoped that ibogaine might break my habit once and for all:
“On the Thursday night I took a test dose of ibogaine hydrochloride. Edward (my guide) said it was roughly 200mg. After 35-40 mins I could feel the drug start to take effect. I looked at my hand and it seemed so primitive, perhaps Neanderthal. It felt like some form of anesthesia and a distortion of sound and vision were noticed. What I do remember though was an intense connection to the old photographs and toys I’d brought (I’d thought a connection with my childhood would be healing). It was really a very emotional experience but I was apprehensive as regards taking the full dose the next day. I felt taking 7 or 8 times this dose could kill me but, according to my body weight, that’s what it was going to take to end my methadone addiction.
My withdrawal symptoms from methadone had however temporarily abated.
So I prepared myself the next day for the experience. I was starting to get bad withdrawal from the methadone. I wore a white robe and painted myself ritualistically for the treatment. This was to be a statement of my methadone addiction; after all I’d been a ‘methadone ghost’ for so many years. As the face paint fell away over the next few hours the methadone addiction would also fade away (This was also a tribute to the Bwiti cult of Gabon who use the drug in spiritual ceremonies).
I took the ibogaine at 10:20am on the Friday. I took four capsules to begin with. The fifth I’d take later. After about 40 mins I felt a heavy emotional trauma come over me. I grew very apprehensive re the dose and feared that I may die. Edward reassured me. I lay down to let the ibogaine work. Light and sound were being affected. The yellow painted wall opposite me glowed with a burning intensity. I knew that this was going to be a strong experience. The noise of the underground trains became amplified into the sound of a thousand Nazi bombers. I felt the approach of something huge, something menacing perhaps. I called out Bwiti 3 times. The words appeared in my head in large green slimy letters. The first visions that I experienced when closing my eyes were yellow grids stretching into the empty darkness of space. These stellar grids then took me into another dark and ominous landscape with a particularly eerie resonance. A strange sound permeated the atmosphere…it was like a thousand million aircraft drifting overhead. The hum or resonance permeated the whole experience and I understood this to be an essential component of existence, a binding force that was always there but the ibogaine helped me recognize it. I then felt I was on board a strange spacecraft viewing the landscape before me. Small portraits drifted by of myself as a child. They stopped when I contracted a hellish skin condition at age 17. This was where my development was seriously affected and I journeyed into heavy depression and low self-esteem. Next a figure that had haunted me for years appeared. It was the Chinese torture victim from Georges Bataille’s Tears of Eros. This photograph of a young man being systematically sliced to pieces was the most disturbing image I’d ever seen. The text mentioned that a large dose of opium had been administered to the victim prior to the torture. A curiously beatified expression was on the guy’s face. In my trance state the figure flew towards me in an inset box. He was glowing silver, completely transcended from the torture he was undergoing. The beauty outweighed the horror. I realized then that I too had been a torture victim. I had been torturing myself with opiate addiction.
I then experienced a complete atomic breakdown. I was viewing myself at a molecular level. The molecules of my existence had information imprinted within. The information was all to do with evolution. I experienced life in the primordial swamp, viewing ancient life forms that I had once been. A cycle of death and rebirth appeared. A lizard popped out of a hole and jumped down another. Next an animal skull popped out of the first hole went down the next and the whole cycle continued with the lizard again.
These are the key moments of the experience. There’s a lot of it that I can’t recall. The intensity was often overwhelming and it was impossible to take on board all of the information. Ataxia hit me heavily and I found it impossible to walk without help. Jagged lines appeared around lights and the strange resonance permeated my head for a long time after the visions ended.
I was a little sick and went to bed. I didn’t feel great but it wasn’t withdrawal at least. I felt I was being cured of my addiction.
It took me about 3 days to start walking properly again. I did have residual withdrawal symptoms but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I’d say it cleared 85% of the rattling. There was no way I’d feel this good if I’d tried to come straight off methadone. I didn’t have much strength over the following 2 weeks but it’s gradually coming back. It’s now the 15th day since I used to take methadone and I feel really good. Ibogaine has ended my addiction.”
Addenda: I’ve now gone almost 8 months without methadone and my life has completely altered. A voice spoke to me at the end of the treatment. I took it to be the God of Ibogaine. He told me I would be healed within the next few weeks and my life would change around (I had been dreadfully unhappy prior to taking the treatment). I was and I am a much happier person now. The anguish of depression has been vanquished … I am whole again!” David Graham Scott 2004
CA: Aside from getting clean would you say Ibogaine regenerated your artistic and creative energy?
DGS: I have to admit that my closing statement, re: my depression being completely lifted, turned out to be untrue in the long run. While I do firmly believe that psychedelics can be beneficial in the treatment of mental health and addiction issues I think they need to be used in conjunction with specialist psychotherapy if serious long-term change is expected.
I have functioned well enough on opiates to be creative. Look at the early experimental film I did called Opus Morphia. That was an elegy to the junkie lifestyle. There are scenes of real addicts doing their routine activities (inc. my wife at the time, Denise) mixed into a colorful spectrum of scratched lines and animation. I tried to make a narrative structure and then decided to reassemble some episodes in a somewhat random fashion à la William Burroughs cut-up technique. A flawed work of art perhaps but now it’s a unique inside visit to the era of Trainspotting!
Notes from Opus Morphia:
“An experimental project made on Super8 film in 1986 with my then wife Denise. It was intended as a dark story of love for junk superseding all other forms of that emotion. I constructed a narrative then deconstructed it in a cut-up Burroughs fashion.
Made in Edinburgh and featuring real addicts doing real drugs. Various scenes have been used in several of my other documentaries. Soundtrack created especially for the film by Andi Vincent.”
For a good number of years I actually stabilized on the methadone program and lived a relatively normal and productive existence. The darkness within me never quite dissipated though and I returned to morbid subject matters with my first serious documentary, Hanging with Frank (1996). All my films are insights to my obsessions, desires, likes and dislikes. Every major character I’ve filmed, I have developed a close relationship with and parts of them are also parts of me. This has continued right up to the present day with my latest documentary The End of the Game (working title) about an old colonial going on his last big game hunt. I may be an animal loving vegan but I cannot deny that something excites me in the midst of the hunt, even though I use a camera and not a gun.
My main problem was not the junk but rather an underlying mental health issue i.e. depression/anxiety. Ibogaine may well help with depression and there is evidence that psychedelics such as psilocybin certainly helps. I firmly believe, however, that it needs long-term psychotherapeutic backing if it is to be successful.
CA: Do you believe in God and if so why? I have known you just a short while and assume you are a staunch atheist hell bent on burning the world to ashes. In fact, you have a dirtier mouth than me. I wonder, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
DGS: What mother? I was formed from the Devil’s own excrement. Oops….I believe in the Devil therefore I must believe in God!! You caught me out, you bastard!
Love to sit on the fence with most of these questions. Actually, as one’s decision often offends and I really need as many friends as I can muster. Anyway, I’m an art historian and love 16th century Flemish and German painting which contain a myriad of religious allegories and the most delicious execution scenes. I’m a strange mixed bag actually. Often changeable from hour to hour or even minute to minute. I’m a vegan who loves small dogs and yet I have obsessive interest in death and decay.
By the way, the British, and especially the Scottish, have very colorful vocabulary.
CA: Your latest effort is called The End Game about an old codger, Sir Guy, and his last great hunt. As a fucking vegan how did you come up with this idea for the film aside from the fact carrots and radishes don’t make for very good content?
DGS: The End of the Game has at its core a great character in a great location going on an epic journey to an equally marvelous setting. Guy Wallace lives in a ramshackle caravan on a barren moor in the northern highlands of Scotland (where I come from so he’s on my doorstep basically). He sits surrounded by memories of the past: a past that includes going patrols with the Kings African Rifles, periods as a mercenary in the turbulent post-colonial phase and as a tracker for big game hunters in Kenya and Tanzania. He really is a moldering old relic that must be recorded before he disappears.
Sir Guy is steeped in aged British traditions but if he was truly stuffy and completely obnoxious then the film wouldn’t work. I look beyond the simple premise of vegan v hunter and look for the essential humanity that unites us. A sense of humor and being able to laugh at oneself is something we share, for example, so I capitalize on that.
The film is more than a battle of wills between two opposites. I see it also as a poetic portrait of an old man in decline. I’ll get slammed for that by many but I hope that those with a discerning eye will pick up on the nuances of the film.
CA: When was the last time you ate meat and what kind was it? Do you ever crave meat?
DGS: I ate chicken skin around age 11. My mother then opened the chicken and I saw there were half formed eggs within it. For the first time I truly felt appalled and repulsed that I was eating a once living creature.
I don’t really crave meat but sometimes I like the smell of fried bacon. That’s about it. I’m very strict about this.
CA: Tell me more about End of the Game and Sir Guy? You traveled to Africa for this film. Where did you go?
Here are my notes for the film:
A bizarre journey to Africa with a vegan filmmaker and a big game hunter.
Committed vegan, David Graham Scott, follows old colonial relic Guy Wallace as he prepares to go on his last big game hunt and fulfill his ambition to bag a fearsome cape buffalo. It’s Guy’s last chance to relive his glory days in the African bush and finally lay down his guns.
The oddball relationship of Scott and Wallace is the central drive of the film as the director explores the ethics of big game hunting and even questions his own animal rights stance when lured in by the thrill of the hunt.
The End of the Game has at its core a great character in a great location going on an epic journey to an equally marvelous setting. Guy Wallace lives in a ramshackle caravan on a barren moor in the northern highlands of Scotland. He sits surrounded by memories of the past: a past that includes going patrols with the Kings African Rifles, periods as a mercenary in the turbulent post-colonial phase and as a tracker for big game hunters in Kenya and Tanzania.
Filmmaker David Graham Scott lives near the old eccentric in the Caithness moors. He’s built a solid relationship with the man he often refers to as ‘Sir’ Guy and that will be fully explored within both the badlands of Caithness and the South African bush.
He’s cut from the same mold as Molly Dineen’s central character in Home from the Hill: a man out of time and out of place. The End of the Game will be a POV director led narrative questioning the ethics of game hunting and built around the oddball coupling of a vegan and hunter.
CA: How do you fund your projects and support yourself?
DGS: I’ve been funded by the BBC directly and indirectly through a production company on various occasions. I’ve also funded my own films through sheer force of will to find the money. Iboga Nights was partly financed via crowdfunding but it bankrupt me in the end and I had to sell my apartment. How do I support myself? I struggle quite honestly but in some ways I think the struggle makes me less complacent and gives me the necessary edge for the films I make.
CA: You have two shaggy dogs, are they vegans, too?
DGS: Think your mistaken, old chap. Those are hunting dogs my friends at Thrumster House have. Loveable old rascals and definitely not vegans.
CA: Are their collars and leashes hypoallergenic?
DGS: When I use them on my lady friends they only complain when I give the leash a sharp tug.
CA: You have mad panache and have been repeatedly compared to Steed of The Avengers. No one rocks a turtle neck like DGS. What fashion tips do you have for American hipsters who haven’t had an original idea since they were six?
DGS: American hipsters? Do they exist? I do like the old turtle necks and have been wearing them well before the current hipster craze. My gimmick is a pinstripe suit of vintage styling mixed with a black turtle neck.
I also wear a variety of outfits but at the moment, because I’m in the Scottish Highlands, I’ve been wearing tweed which is exceptionally good in this climate.
Regarding fashion, I’m rather down at heel in many ways but I was influenced by the late great London dandy, Sebastian Horsley. He lived in the bohemian Soho district of London and was an incredible wit and absolute rake. He dressed in garish sequined suits and wore bespoke Victorian style costume. He infamously had himself crucified for an art project and had a predilection for sex with multiple amputees. The man was also a die-hard junkie and I saw him a few hours before he died from a massive overdose. I put a little of his story in Iboga Nights. Those hipsters you mentioned should read up on this incredible individual.
CA: What else would you like to say about The End Game and when can we expect to see it?
DGS: It’s the usual labor of love that may or may not be broadcast. Wouldn’t be the first film I’ve made that’s too controversial to broadcast. I’m doing the rough cut edit just now and I imagine the film will be finished within a month. PBS have shown an interest so keep an eye out for it in the U.S.