Q&A with Award-Winning Filmmaker, Dianne Griffin

Dianne Griffin Director, Producer is an award-winning international documentary filmmaker, teacher, public speaker and has been creating films for over thirty years. She draws inspiration from the people around her, creating intimate connections and telling stories of dignity, suffering and compassion, which move us to act. Dianne’s documentaries have broadcast nationwide on PBS, at theaters, film festivals, universities, museums, libraries and on platforms such as Kanopy. Dianne has presented on documentary filmmaking at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, The Commonwealth Club, and Harvard Film Archive.

Griffin’s documentary Painted Nails (2016) Features Van Nguyen’s personal story encompassing both the immigrant’s journey and one woman’s rise to activism in the face of adversity. Her documentary White Hotel (2001) shot in Eritrea, premiered at the New Directors, New Film Series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Film at Lincoln Center.  Her newest collaboration The Creative High (2021) follows nine artists who have faced addiction and are transformed by their creative process in the search for identity and freedom. 

The Creative High (watch trailer) can be seen October 22nd at the REEL Recovery Film Festival 

For tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/14th-reel-recovery-film-festival-presented-by-the-guest-house-ocala-tickets-315817989107.

As a filmmaker, Dianne is passionate about the exploration of what it means to be alive. 


Q. If you are in recovery, what was your drug of choice? When did you stop using?
A. Drinking for me wasn’t a casual cocktail it was a bottle of whatever was at hand. I gulped it till I blacked out and even then, continued to drink more. I began my drinking as a teenager and pretty much drank anything to excess with sometimes topping it all off in the early days with hallucinogens. It was difficult to be with myself and all the feelings that were arising. I was taught to escape as the way to deal with life. Using alcohol is what I needed to do at that time and then continued to use as a way to cope with my feelings as an angry teenager and then adult. During this time, I was creating art and it did offer some refuge and connection. But I was dissociated and shut down, my connection with my true nature was not nurtured and cared for. I was not able to create my own documentaries until I had worked a recovery practice for a few years. I come from a long line of drinkers. I witnessed the suffering that alcohol caused to our family. The last thing that I wanted to inherit was alcoholism. I had little compassion for myself when my drinking escalated, destroying so much around me as time progressed. This was the story I took on at that time and drinking worked for a short while. Perhaps it even saved my life during the early days. I can say with some certainty being in recovery as an artist saved this precious life of mine. 1. When did you stop using? I had been out and about, all-night partying hard with a friend. To top off the adventure we decided to go for an early morning walk on baker beach. I remember the excruciating migraine from that morning. Due to the hangover, I could not enjoy the beautiful ocean as the sun was rising. I was caught deep in the cycle of addiction. My friend asked If I wanted to go to an AA meeting with her. She drove that day and I didn’t have a ride home so I went along. We walked into the 12-step AA meeting sat down and after listening to a few shares I joined recovery. I felt liberated, these fellow addicts knew my story and I knew theirs. I worked a recovery program from that day until my slip and then I began again. I experienced a new freedom and happiness and was able to obtain sobriety for the first time in my life. My friend struggled for years with her drinking problem. We parted ways but I am forever grateful for her suggestion to attend a meeting that day on the beach. After my slip it took a couple of years to get back to a life in recovery free from addiction. I sat in the rooms even when I was using. I knew too much and the experience I had the first time with immediate relief from my addictive behaviors did not occur. Eventually with a lot of encouragement, work and support from others a recovery free from alcohol entered my life again. I keep showing up despite everything including what my mind was telling me. I have this day, this moment to keep coming back to as a grateful artist in recovery, and a Buddhist. I extend out my experience, strength and hope as it was so freely given to me over the years. Take what you like and leave the rest. 

Q. If you meditate, tell us a little bit about your practice and how it helps in daily life.
A. My creative work as a documentary filmmaker is a doorway into how I look at the world which has been deeply influenced by my recovery and Buddhist practice. I began working as a documentary filmmaker over twenty-five years ago after attending film school. During my career perhaps due to working with the arts I was guided into a deeper investigation of connecting to a more authentic life, without drugs and alcohol. To work a more engaged recovery program due to a slip, I gravitated toward exploring and eventually practicing Buddhism. I participate in weekly meetings, speak at public events and private workshops. My Buddhist practice is a powerful tool that in the long run teaches me to train the mind and transform my suffering. My suffering is what brought me to Buddhism. This suffering was my dharma gate. Sitting up straight, Dharma Gates can open everywhere; reality presents itself everywhere. Zazen, a form of seated meditation is at the very heart of Zen practice. Zazen is the study of the self. Sitting is extremely difficult for me as an addict. My training involved being anywhere but, in this moment, connecting body, breath and mind. There is a lot going on in this life and I can get caught in the mind. I was advised “do not try to stop your thinking”. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out. Sitting in meditation I learn to tame the mind. After a while moment by moment, I build up a little concentration. I learn to trust myself – to see clearly and with this trust to welcome the open space of not-knowing. And out of this experience perhaps clarity and the creative process can arise. It’s with the support of the sangha and the recovery rooms that all of this investigation is possible. How I treat myself, and how I treat others is key to moving forward in a positive way. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says the creative process starts with seated meditation practice. By meditating we free up the hold that our concepts have over us, relaxing into awareness of ourselves and our world. Perhaps the creative process intuitively nudged me toward The Creative High documentary. I feel so fortunate I was an artist in recovery as a Buddhist and able to hear it’s call to join in on this wild creative process, which was sometimes difficult and incredibly deepening with the making of The Creative High. The Creative process is something to discover, to look at it with curiosity and look at our lives with curiosity. It is not an easy road of self-discovery creating documentary films it takes years and it takes discipline. 

Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas A river the divides the city, one side is Kansas and over the river is Missouri.

Q. From what school or teacher did you learn the most?
A. The teacher who steered me toward the artists life my High School art teacher.

Q. Who is your favorite poet?
A. Mary Oliver 

Q. What does recovery or sobriety mean to you? How do you define it?
A. Recovery for me today as a Buddhist and an artist in recovery means I get to show up for my life to the best of my ability. I like to believe being as present as I can muster in sobriety is a revolutionary act in my case. My true self was smothered by painful addictive behaviors and I was shut down emotionally before I made it to recovery. One of the gifts of my recovery as a filmmaker is to explore and investigate feeling states. The creative process allows me to connect to this flow of emotional language and express it out into the world. Perhaps myself and the audience can encounter the mysterious and powerful life force that lies just below the surface of everyday habits and addictive behaviors. There are times I still can’t connect to a feeling that shows up and I try to be patient. I keep showing up despite everything including my own negative self-talk and witness my life as it unfolds with the support of the program. It’s empowering and freeing knowing I am not alone others share similar insane childhoods, adulthoods and are in the rooms showing up with me. Trusting where I am at and little by little, having patience and compassion for myself more is revealed. If I can’t have compassion toward myself, I try to have compassion that I can’t have compassion for myself. 

Q. What book(s) have you read more than once?
A. Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections

Q. Did you start any new projects after getting sober?
A. My personal creative projects all arose during my years in recovery.

Q. If and when you retire would you prefer to live by the ocean, lake, river, mountaintop or penthouse?
A. I don’t have definite plans about retirement.

Q. What is your favorite hotel or resort?
A. Tassajara Zen Center

Q. Who has had the biggest influence on you throughout your life?
A. My grandmother Edith Ocamb was the biggest influence throughout my life. She suffered greatly from the disease of alcoholism. The kindness of so many who have been a part of my life and offered out so much care, love and support. I am forever grateful to them. I want to mention also the acts of kindness from strangers some of whom sat in the rooms and shared their experience, strength and hope.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A. Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

Q. What is your favorite APP?
A. Picture This

Q. Which film have you watched the most?
A. Jane Campion, The Piano 

Q. Who is your favorite director?
A. Debra Granik 

Q. Who is your favorite sober celebrity?
A. Anne Lamott

Q. What/Who is your favorite band/composer/musical artist?
A. Joni Mitchell 

Q. What is your favorite city?
A. San Francisco, still loving this city after 30 years. 

Q. What is your favorite museum?
A. The Prado 

Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
A. Zuni Restaurant 

Q. What is the best piece of advice someone gave you?
A. Keep coming back it works if you work it and you’re worth it. 

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve given someone else?
A. Don’t give up on your life.

Q. What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?
A. Making a film in Eritrea, Africa with no funding. 

Q. What is the proudest moment in your life?
A. Completing the film, White Hotel, with no funding.