I interviewed April Kelley, the writer and lead actress of Just In Case, just this last weekend so wanted to draw attention to the fact that it posted, so you can still check it out and check out her film in Shorts Block No. 1 if you’d like. I hate to play favorites but like all human beings I am biased and this one did particularly resonate with me as I remember having similar conversations with my father over coffee explaining what bipolar disorder felt like.
So what DOES bipolar disorder feel like? Of course, it’s different for everyone who experiences it. April Kelley rapid-cycles; I go through long, severe episodes, typically depressive. But when I hear someone else with the diagnosis just nail something that was so precisely to a “T” what I’ve felt at times, like not being able to wake up in the morning without thinking “fuck me, I gotta do this all over again,” I feel an immense sense of catharsis. April described what she felt while searching for kindred spirits and reading Teri Cheney’s Manic as a “hug and a slap in the face.” I love that. (By the way, I realized I HAD read this memoir as well after looking through my Kindle history around the time I was binge-reading my own “bipolar stories”). That’s what my ultimate lofty goal would be for a festival like this, to share stories to help others feel less alone.
April talks about how it’s rare to see representation in films specific to bipolar disorder. That’s generally true, yet for some reason I noticed a big spike in entries about bipolar disorder to the festival this year. In particular, Borrowed Light, Troubled Minds, Re-Live, and How to Explain Your Mental Illness to Stanley Kubrick are all very specifically about bipolar disorder, made by either people who live with bipolar disorder or who have intimately experienced it. All of those films, while differing from my own experience, once again spoke to some particular facet of my own experience.
I definitely noticed the trend and wondered myself what was driving it. Was it the frustration that there really aren’t many movies out there very specifically about bipolar? At least a couple of the filmmakers said that. Is it that there haven’t been enough outlets before, and now there’s more mental health awareness in general? I like to think that’s a big part of it—the whole “rising tide that lifts all ships” phenomenon. Depression and suicide are still more common in the population in general and in films, and only a comparatively small portion of the population experiences bipolar disorder, but if mental health is becoming a more common and open topic in films in general it makes sense that population would want representation, too.
What’s wonderful about the movies in the festival this year is they capture the diversity within the diagnosis. The depression, the unexpected humor, the excessive racing thoughts, the delusions, the suicidal ideation that can all be pieces of the puzzle. Like people experience bipolar disorder differently, these movies portray it differently, yet they all felt authentic to me in some way.
I think the Latvian Abele brothers told me in our interview they wanted to make a movie different than the “silver linings of the cloud” one, and I of course immediately knew they were talking about Silver Linings Playbook, a popular American touchstone film for the topic of bipolar disorder. I guess that shows you just how limited our media representation really is. And I freaking loved Silver Linings Playbook. It was a sanitized Hollywood rom-com movie about bipolar disorder, and it was meant to be, but it got just *close enough* to hitting on some emotional truth for me that I got sucked into it anyway. That’s how hungry for representation I was, apparently. But boy, the films in the festival this year really blow that out of the water in terms of being “real.” I will readily admit this festival is selfish in some ways—it really helps me seeing that representation. I really hope it helps the filmmakers and some viewers though, too.
The April Kelley interview, and all the others, are here. There’s so many of these now, I think I’m going to have to create an archive somewhere—I think they’re really interesting conversations even outside the context of the films.