Film chronicles a life lost to drugs

Cheryl Chan
The Province

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The tragic life of April Reoch, a 25-year-old drug addict and prostitute whose body was found in a dumpster outside her East Hastings hotel on Christmas day seven years ago, is the subject of a documentary making its debut this fall.

"We followed her life and, as it turns out, her death," said Al Arsenault, 54, a retired constable and president of the Odd Squad, a documentary production team made up of cops-turned-filmmakers.

Tears for April: Beyond the Blue Lens is the story of Reoch's descent into drug addiction.  The film, which clocks in at just under 100 minutes, took 10 years to make. (Watch the trailer here.)

Arsenault was a constable on the Downtown Eastside beat when he first met 17-year old Reoch -- a "fresh-faced, young kid" -- outside the Metropole hotel in April 1993.

She came down from Squamish looking for a bit of fun, he said.

"I told her she'll get mixed up in the drug scene, she'll end up prostituting herself. I told her she might even die down there, and it all came true," said Arsenault.

He saw her again six months later. She was hooked on drugs, with scabs and sores on her face.

Arsenault took photos of Reoch  and she became the "before and after girl" in the 1999 documentary Through a Blue Lens.

The documentary, which profiled five other addicts, was used extensively in drug-education programs across high schools in Canada. It's the National Film Board's most successful documentary to date.

Tears for April, with experienced documentary-maker Ken Jubenvill at the helm and Province copy editor Steve Berry as screenwriter, revisits the cast of addicts.

The film camera followed Reoch, the central character, on the streets, in and out of skid row hotels and into a garage where she was "living like a rat among garbage."

It followed her to her first Narcotics Anonymous meeting and through several unsuccessful attempts to get clean. It followed her to the end, on Boxing Day in 2000, when Arsenault had to identify her lifeless body in the morgue.

Recently, Arsenault and his crew went to Squamish to film Reoch's son, now 16. They also filmed Ian Matheson Rowe, the man convicted for her death, in jail.

Arsenault believes Reoch allowed the film crew unfettered access because "she didn't want others to make the same mistakes she did."

The documentary will be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in the fall. It has also been submitted to the Toronto and Vancouver Film Festivals.

Arsenault hopes the film gets a wider release so April's story can be shared with more people.

"I was her friend," he said. "She did [the police] a great service."

 The Province 2007

 The Odd Squad

Dead woman was poster girl in cop drug film



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