Filmmaker Jennifer Brea gets deeply personal in her documentary "Unrest," as she chronicles her debilitating illness and meets other sufferers around the world all without leaving her bed.
At 28, while studying for her Ph.D at Harvard, Brea came down with a severe fever. But when the fever passed, she didn't get better. She continued to be bedridden for weeks at a time, too weak to get up or walk for more than short stretches. She was ultimately diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
ME is often misdiagnosed, misunderstood, considered by the medical community as a psychological disorder or dismissed by the public as a joke. But as Brea shows, by conducting interviews from her bedroom via Skype with sufferers and experts around the world, it's a disease that some 17 million people have and for which science, due largely to underfunding by the National Institute of Health, has still not found a cause or a cure.
The movie covers many of the issues faced by ME patients. Some are in worse shape than others, and suffer secondary ailments because of their immobility. (One young woman in England has the bones of a centenarian, due to osteoporosis.) Then there are the countries Denmark is mentioned prominently where ME is treated as a psychological disorder, with patients committed to institutions against their families' wishes.
Brea's footage shows the cyclical nature of ME, how a day of relative health and activity can be followed by a "crash" that lays her up for days. Brea also talks with candor and raw emotion about how the disease has taken a toll on her spirit and on her marriage (though her caring husband Omar Wasow, the guy who taught Oprah how to use the internet, wins the award for spouse of the year).
With tender intimacy and an advocate's urgency, Brea's "Unrest" is both a revelation and a call to action. The movie does what all good documentaries do: It illuminates, it touches the heart, and it points the way to solutions.
– Sean P. Means
"Unrest" had its world premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. There are no more scheduled screenings.