Title: I Am Breathing
Directors: Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon
Out Of Five? 4
The computerised voice of Professor Stephen Hawking means we probably all think we know about Motor Neurone Disease. I Am Breathing shows us the other side – an ordinary man who descends from being a healthy young father to being paralysed from the neck down in the course of just one year. And who has just months to live.
I Am Breathing is a small, low-budget documentary that packs a powerful punch. It traces the final months of 34 year old Neil Platt, who is struck down with the disease and, together with his family and friends, has to make some sense of his life in order to leave a legacy for his young son.
He starts by writing a blog that soon gains a following. By his own admission, he has plenty of time on his hands, which allows him to think through some of the big questions in life and how he will be able to give young Oscar a sense of what he, his father, was about. Technology seems to come to his aid with his writing: his paralysis means he has to use voice activated software. But his experience of it is similar to those of us without disabilities – it frequently doesn’t work. As if he hasn’t enough to contend with.
He finally decides to write a long letter to his son and to compile a memory box, containing objects, from a cigarette lighter to a tweed cap, all of are intended to paint a self-portrait, long after he is gone.
The simplicity of the documentary is just one of the reasons for its emotional power. It is told in a direct, unfussy style, using fly on the wall camerawork that echoes the family videos used to show us some of Neil’s memories. Scenes where he talks directly to the camera and those filmed from his eye level, showing us his restricted view of the world, bring us closer to the truth he is facing.
It’s a truth he doesn’t flinch from. Through his blog – which serves as the film’s narrator – and his own spoken words, we come to know somebody who is startlingly honest, yet humorous, realistic and without a shred of self-pity. It’s only towards the very end that we see any semblance of anger or resentment. Neither Neil, nor the documentary makers, indulge in any sentimentality, nor is there any sense of intrusion into what is, essentially, a very private matter. This is sensitive, emotional and inspiring stuf
I Am Breathing has its European premiere this week at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Its makers aim to hold 100 screenings of the film around the world on or around Motor Neurone Disease Global Awareness Day on Friday, 21 June. To find your local screening, go to www.iambreathingfilm.com. The number of screenings is still growing and this is a film worth seeking out if there’s one within shooting distance.
I Am Breathing opens on Friday, 21 June.