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TAT AND B-FLOW-32
Future Giants Magazine
Property of Adam Battaglia
Property of Adam Battaglia
DMD_NOVO-273

Doin’ My Drugs is an emotionally charged, inspiring 90 minute documentary intended to raise awareness about the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia, and the developing world.

Our film follows the personal transformation of musician Thomas Muchimba Buttenschøn, born HIV+ in Zambia in 1985 to a Zambian mother and Danish father, from his early treatment, the loss of both parents to AIDS, his own near death experience, his rise as a pop star in Denmark, to his passionate crusade to eliminate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Recognizing that his native Zambia remains trapped in a horrific and senseless AIDS crisis – 16% of the population is infected with HIV, while many antiretroviral drug treatment programs which keep the virus dormant are widely available though government programs for free – Thomas is inspired to use his music and his personal story of survival and triumph to confront the stigma and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS once and for all… beginning in Zambia, with the expanding goal of spreading the message across the globe.

Can songs save the world? For Thomas, the answer is yes…

CAST AND CREW

A word from the Director

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Thomas Buttenschøn and Tyler Q Rosen filming in Kaunda Square, Lusaka, Zambia in January 2014

In 2013, my dear friend, Thomas asked me if I wanted to shoot a film in Zambia. I told him “Sure. What is the film about?” Thomas simply replied “I want to know if songs can save the world”.

Originally, we thought the shoot would take only a few weeks. Well, we actually shot 118 days, over three years, resulting in over 700 hours of footage. What we thought might be an impactful short film, instead turned into an incredible project that not only included a film, but also an album, numerous concerts and a non-profit, global foundation founded by Thomas and I that is dedicated to raising awareness through the power of music.

This was a journey. A journey that taught us so much about the human condition and about the struggles that so many face in this world. A journey that spanned three continents, six countries and completely engulfed our hearts and minds. Thomas became an activist.. with his music, with his story. I, too, became an activist.. with my camera. Together, and we with so many others, we made this film.

Along the way, we met and collaborated with such an astounding array of talented individuals that it’s almost impossible to list them all. From Denmark to Zambia, South Africa to California, so many inspirational people – activists, artists, musicians, journalists, philanthropists, doctors, health care workers – the list feels endless. People who strive, every day, to make a difference. To make the world a better place.

This film is Thomas’ story, but it’s also the story of all those who work tirelessly, day in and day out, to make a difference. This is their story as well.

Tyler Q Rosen

THE FILMMAKERS

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Uriah Herr and Jay Miracle in our Hollywood office.

Producer Fax Bahr and I met on the set of a really bad reality show back in the day. Fax and I immediately enjoyed each other’s take on storytelling, among other things… Fax is from Michigan, like me. Our bond grew immediately. Fax is one of the strongest storytellers I have ever met. Perhaps even the greatest. When I first told Fax about this story I was trying to tell on film, he was immediately engrossed and as my Producer.

Fax introduced me to the amazing filmmaker, Jay Miracle. Together, Fax and Jay were the filmmaking duo behind the revered documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. I was quickly impressed at how intensely talented and crafty these two are together. Jay as the all-world editor, and Fax as the savvy storyteller. Jay has become the true glue that has bound this story together. I don’t think we would have the film today, that we are all so proud of, without Jay Miracle.

Producer Uriah Herr and I met 10 years ago, back in our New York indie filmmaking days. Uriah joined the project mid-stream. The film immediately took a massive turn for the better. when the inevitable indie film storm brews on the horizon, Uriah steadies the ship. His cohesiveness, experience and calm helped the film leap forward into new creative territory. Our collaboration has strengthened my own filmmaking resolve, which has resulted in a far stronger film.

Photographer and cameraman, Adam “Bttags” Battaglia jumped into the “Doin’ My Drugs” fire in mid 2015, while Thomas was recording his album in Los Angeles. Adam’s photography made an immediate impact on this film, and project as a whole. Aside from Thomas’ father, Jens’, incredible photography from the 80’s and 90’s that we use throughout the film, Adam’s incredible photographs capture the essence of every moment. His keen eye for his surroundings, and his feeling for the film’s subjects, have taken our project to another level.

THE MUSICIANS

Several years ago, Thomas met and and began playing with some of Zambia’s top musician/activists. Working together, alongside Los Angeles based producer Thom Russo Jr., they have created an album – the soundtrack to our documentary – focused on Thomas’ fight against the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Brilliant and innovative musicians on their own, their collaboration with Thomas has created a boundary shattering sound that will spread a message of love and hope throughout Zambia, and beyond. The Zambian musicians are…

Thomas first met Zambian Reggae artist, Maiko Zulu in 2013, and was immediately impressed with Maiko’s social conscienceless and his provocative musical platform. “St. Maiko “ as he is affectionately known in Zambia, focuses his creative energies on the social issues of the day, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Witnessing Maiko using his music to spark social change, I was instantly drawn to his wisdom, and selfless dedication to the issues we engage in the film. St Maiko quickly became the elder statesman of this crew of musicians who came together to create “Doin’ My Drugs”.

Zambian Dance-hall, R&B and Afro Pop singer B-Flow began collaborating with Thomas in 2014, immediately forming a creative kinship. A staunch activist involved in many social causes including women’s rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, domestic-based violence, literacy, B Flow’s aggressive flow and incredible lyrical content profoundly inspired Thomas, as evidenced in the film.

Sista’ D Zulu – married Maiko Zulu – is one of Zambia’s first true feminists. Her music has brought crucial issues to the forefront in Zambia, improving the lives of women throughout her country. Her music and leadership are a shining example for all young women within Zambia  and beyond.

Danny Kaya, affectionately known as simply “Danny”, is arguably the most popular and influential Zambian musician over the last 20 years. His staunch HIV/AIDS activism has helped raise awareness throughout Zambia, and throughout sub Saharan Africa. First meeting in 2014, Danny and Thomas became fast friends. As captured in the film, Thomas’ story hits Danny hard, inspiring him to join with Thomas to spread his message. Together, they endeavor to reach most disenfranchised sectors of Zambian society, in order to, once and for all, eradicate HIV/AIDS in Zambia. Danny is featured on the title track to our soundtrack album, “Doin’ My Drugs”.

Mwiza Zulu is the astoundingly intelligent, creative and beautiful daughter of St. Maiko and Sista D’. Only 14 years old when we first recorded her on film, Mwiza made an immediate impact on the music in Doin My Drugs. She provides a wise-beyond-her-years insight into the hearts and minds of teenage women of Zambia, and of youth culture as a whole. Mwiza joins her father, Maiko, and Thomas on the track “Children of Freedom”, a song that Thomas and Maiko and Mwiza wrote together.

John Chiti is a prominent Albino Zambian singer/songwriter. The first Albino to come out as a popular figure, Chiti has devoted himself to shattering the entrenched stigma surrounding Albinoism. Incredibly, many throughout Africa still believe that Albino body parts can yield great riches to those who possess them, and so Albinos are hunted and killed for their body parts. In advocating for all Albinos, John has become a national role model, and is hugely popular throughout Zambia, his music empowering the disenfranchised Albino youth. John founded and runs the Zambia Albino Foundation, raising awareness about the Albino struggle. ZAF has helped numerous families across Zambia. John and Thomas have been writing music together for almost two years now. John is featured on the song “London Weather”, which will appear on the “Doin’ My Drugs” soundtrack album.

One day, while I was gardening in front of the house I rent in East LA, my landlady rolled up and asked me what I’d been up to. I began telling her about this incredible project I had been working on in Europe and in Africa about this musician who wanted to change the world with his music. Astounded by Thomas’ story, she asked if she could hear the music. After hearing a few tracks she started freaking out, exclaiming “I’m getting goosebumps! You have to meet my husband and tell him about this project!” That’s when how met my Album Producer, Thomas Russo Jr.

Thom was immediately engrossed and inspired by Thomas’ rough demos, and demanded he produce Thomas’ album. Being that Thom happens to be a 16-time Grammy Award winner, I was forced to bow to his demands (ha!). Thomas and Thom instantly hit it off, and began collaborating in the summer of 2014, culminating in their recording of the “Doin’ My Drugs” album in the summer of 2015. The album is a gorgeous and powerful ode to the power of music. In essence, our soundtrack is the life blood of our documentary, as it’s through this music Thomas believes his message will reach the Zambian people.

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Thom Russo Jr. mans the board as Thomas and the boys record the Doin’ My Drugs soundtrack.

THE PHILANTROPISTS

I met Paul Vitagliano through my brother. He immediately saw the promise and potential of Thomas’ story, and was the first person to step up and help me, when no one else would.. Without Paul, there actually may not even be a “Doin’ My Drugs” – he was instrumental to launching the project in so many ways, but most profoundly by introducing me to some of his influential friends. One of them was the great philanthropist and executive, Kirk Scott.

Kirk has been fighting HIV/AIDS for over a decade now. As former VP at the Magic Johnson Foundation, Kirk came aboard, bringing with him his vast knowledge and insight into philanthropic world of HIV/AIDS awareness. Kirk gave Thomas and me invaluable direction on starting a non-profit foundation, and how to channel our creative energies into making real and lasting on-the-ground change. His mentoring has been priceless. Without Kirk’s spirited leadership and tenacious work ethos, “Doin’ My Drugs” would not be where it is today.

And then there is the amazing Samantha Granberry. Journalist, philanthropist and Executive at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Samantha is most importantly a friend. Samantha has championed and nurtured us since day one. We could never have pulled off half of what we accomplished without Samantha’s tireless support and unbridled efforts. With the tremendous support of her AHF team, she helped us create a platform from which Thomas can advocate, and advance his message. Samantha put Thomas on stages. She gave us a voice. She, and AHF, were pinnacle in providing us unlimited access to the AHF testing infrastructure in Zambia, allowing us to administer HIV tests to thousands and thousands of Zambians. A truly Herculean feat.

These are just a few of the passionate creatives who helped us bring this film and Thomas’ album to life. It’s not possible to call out all of the insanely passionate people who have helped us both professionally, and behind-the-scenes. It’s been a fantastic, inspiring, life changing journey, and we hope that you enjoy the film as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to life.

Thank you,

Tyler Q Rosen

This film was also made possible in part by a service grant from Creative Visions.

Dedicated to raising awareness through the power of music

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