Unrest (2017)


It’s not often you are moved by a film made almost entirely from someone’s bed. But it is these restricting confines that make Jennifer Brea’s Unrest (2017) so powerful. The documentary that studies the crippling effects of Myalgic Encephalopathy, ME/CFS, was made with Brea bed-bound, remotely organising and directing crews around the world. Receiving the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing at this year’s Sundance festival, Brea’s compelling account of her struggles with the disease, and also the stigma that what she was experiencing wasn’t real, resonate to the core. Emotionally adept, Brea’s story starts when she was a PhD student at Harvard. Just before marrying the love of her life she became bedridden with a fever and over time could not return to her normal self. At the time ME/CFS was not recognised as a serious problem and Brea’s cries for help were met with doctors telling her it was all in her head. This begins Brea’s heart-wrenching documenting as she takes to the internet to seek aid. On her digital adventure she meets and interviews ME/CFS sufferers from around the world and the resultant film becomes the voice of a heavily wronged group of people. Bound to their beds, the majority of the interviews take place over skype, giving the audience a first-hand view of the lives serious ME/CFS sufferers face day to day. Rarely does the viewer get to see the outside world in the film and when we do, it’s jubilant. The captivity the ME/CFS sufferers can face is heavily prevalent in Brea’s testimony and it shines a light on, not only the physically restrictive nature the disease puts you under but also the mental confinement the world’s original view of the problem cast on sufferers. Brea’s husband Omar Wasow, co-founder of Black Planet, is with her and the film the whole way. The couple’s bond tugs at the heartstrings and Wasow’s faith in his partner empowers her to continue living and continue documenting what living with ME/CFS is like. Thank god he did as Unrest will open many eyes to the ‘hidden disease’ that confines victims to a bed and doesn’t let them fight for the support or recognition they need.

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