One in seven young adults needs treatment for addiction. Northshore Recovery High School, in Beverly, Massachusetts, specializes in supporting teens who are struggling to recover from drug and alcohol addiction while earning a high school diploma. For nearly four years, Brandon Burg ’17 has been documenting the journey of the faculty and nine students at the school. That story, 16 and Recovering, premiered as a four-part documentary series on MTV in September 2020.
A nontraditional alternative school, Northshore Recovery High offers hope and a comprehensive program to meet the academic, recovery and mental health needs of students with substance use disorder. In 2017, Burg began filming the story alongside documentary filmmaker and director Steve Liss and a small team before it was pitched to MTV and other networks.
Burg witnessed the triumphs, heartbreaks and firsthand challenges that came with recovery. “These kids come from all different backgrounds,” says Burg. “Some are really poor and living alone, and others come from very wealthy families. Addiction isn’t just for one type of person. It affects everybody, and I’ve seen how it changes lives. It destroys families, and it destroys their own lives. It’s very important that they’re getting the help they need.”
Northshore Recovery High provides a safe space for rehabilitation with a relapse policy, restorative practices, drug testing, group and individual counseling, and small class sizes. “These kids would go to school on their worst days because they know that’s where they are safe,” shares Burg. “They know it’s the place that they will get the help they need.”
While MTV is known for its reality shows, it was critical for the creative team to protect the integrity of the story and the dignity of its constituents. Burg and the team maintained creative control to ensure that the documentary didn’t sensationalize and dramatize the real-life challenges of substance abuse.
“You will not see them doing drugs in the documentary,” shares Burg. “We chose to keep that out because that’s not what we wanted to show. It’s about the recovery process and the effects of drugs. We wanted to show that if you’re struggling, get help. You’re not in this alone. Even though it might suck at this point, once you get the help, it’s possible to turn your life around.”
As the cinematographer and production assistant, Burg spent several years dedicated to this passion project while a student at Endicott College. “This was our life for the past four years,” says Burg. “Even when we weren’t working, it was always on our minds.”
Now Burg has his sights set on graduating in 2021 with a bachelor’s in photography. He hopes to continue pursuing both filmmaking and photography.Click here for Burg's portfolio.