When Chase Millsap first visited his wife Maile’s hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio, it reminded the former Marine infantryman and Green Beret of the war-torn cities he saw in Iraq.
The buildings were broken down and businesses were boarded up. People were out on the streets, some looking like zombies. “It was almost like a bomb had been dropped there,” said Millsap, a graduate of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
That bomb was drug addiction, which turned the town into a nationally known example of America’s opioid crisis.
Yet as Millsap, now a filmmaker, continued to visit Portsmouth on holidays, he witnessed early signs of a recovery. Businesses opened instead of closed, and with that came jobs and money returning to the community. The town built a children’s museum. “I remember thinking, ‘What is going on? What is the change?’”
Millsap answers those questions in his new documentary, “Small Town Strong,” which chronicles how the people of Portsmouth – led by Army veteran and CrossFit gym owner Dale King – turned their town around. Millsap, who co-directed the film with his brother Spencer, shows how King opened his gym’s doors to people battling opioid addiction, helping them recover through fitness and a supportive community. Millsap called the film “a comeback story.”