Highlight: The Bird (2019 Empathy Award Winner)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often manifests itself in repeated thoughts and routines that can be very time-consuming and disruptive to daily life. Finnish director Sakari Sankinnen captures the overriding nature of living with OCD in her brief portrait of 12-year-old Matias, “The Bird”.

The short begins with a bird’s-eye view of Matias as he races breathlessly home from school. For people who live with severe mental illness, just completing another day can sometimes feel overwhelming.

One would think Matias could relax a bit once he got home, but not everything is in order to his sensibilities. He has to count and rearrange a rug, and he notices to his horror the TV remote control is titled at an angle, not perfectly aligned with the table edge. In fact, Matias’s inability to ever fully relax conveys just how stressful it is to live with OCD. The frantic zooms in on what he perceives to be the room’s disorder, each one of them up to him to set straight, and his labored breathing, help an audience who doesn’t understand these kind of compulsions realize just how all-consuming they are.

Just when he think he’s “fixed” his environment, a chaotic accident ensues and we get another glimpse into Matias’s train of thought. If he doesn’t act the right way in this scenario, he tells himself, “bad things will happen” to his mother, who is running late coming home. She will get into an accident. As if the demands of OCD aren’t already enough of a burden to bear—if you don’t meet them, if you can’t control your environment, bad things may happen.

What we wanted one of the distinguishing qualities of a Mental Filmness film to be is something that would allow an outsider to completely empathize with a mental illness they have never experienced. “The Bird” is a stunning success at placing the viewer right into the shoes of someone who must live with OCD.

“The Bird” screened in the first shorts block on Sunday 10/13/19, from 3:00-4:20 p.m.

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