Louise Oswald was the wife of Neil Platt whose battle against MND/ALS we witness in I AM BREATHING. She is currently touring the United States to support the film's theatrical run.
I was sitting in the IFC Center in New York a couple of days ago, waiting to do a Q&A with our audience after the screening of I AM BREATHING, a fact that I am still amazed at, even though I'm sitting here writing on an American Airlines flight to Los Angeles for yet more screenings.
I often think of the ending of the film, and my thoughts are with the audience at this point as they are just experiencing the full emotional whack of this devastating disease. I was in New York as the result of a beautifully crafted film which tells a story, without sensation, and has the ability to reduce almost every audience member to tears. It's not fiction, it was my life, and it was real.
What struck me as I was waiting in the foyer of this cinema in New York was not the amazing reaction of our audience members, it was the reaction of the audience coming out of one of the other films screening there, a violent psychological thriller from what I could gather by listening to the conversation in the foyer. A group of well-dressed adults, I'd say in their late sixties/early seventies, men in chinos and blazers, women in dresses and jewellery – both, it would seem, wearing a lot of hairspray (this was New York!) were discussing who killed who and why. They were laughing and joking about it, about the fact they couldn't follow the story but enjoyed it anyway. It made me remember a meeting to discuss how we can reach people with I AM BREATHING, aware that we wanted everyone to know it's not all depressing despite the subject matter, keen to push the fact that many have found it 'life affirming' and that the issue of dying affects us all and shouldn't be something difficult for us to look at. Therefore our best approach would be to reiterate the positivity in the film. We thought that 'a depressing story about a man dying from a horrible, torturous, degenerative disease' would not be the right way to go!
But I was watching this audience emerge from the cinema with smiles on their faces after the crafted violence they had just seen, as I sat in the corner, waiting to talk to our audience moved to tears, let them know that Oscar and I are survivors and that life is good for us now, let them know how proud we are to tell this story, thank them for watching our film and ask them to keep spreading the word about our film. Each time I face them, they tell me how they have been emotionally uplifted. Nobody comes out of our screenings confused about following any part of the 'plot'.
The positive reaction to our story, and the power of that reaction is the reason I'm sitting here, almost as if our audience have quite literally lifted me here with their enthusiasm. Our marketing budget is small, we have no 'angel investor' who can pull out the 'big guns'. We literally have bare minimum, a small ad in the Village Voice is all we can afford, no large billboard here for us, and yet still we have an audience reduced to tears. We have many reviews and they're good. We're here because our audience know the value of communication to Neil, they help us spread his voice.
I really want to reach the audience coming out of the other screening and ask them who told them to watch the film they've just seen and why? Don't get me wrong, Neil would have been the first one to choose DIE HARD over I AM BREATHING if he was looking for escapism, but I want to steal this audience for 72 minutes and then ask them which film gave them a stronger appreciation of life. Which film would they want to reach millions?
Should we really have questioned sensitivity in our marketing, or should we have played to the other audience:
"I AM BREATHING – one man's fight against the relentless enemy: ALS. Cruelty, torture and inevitable death... feel the truth of this devastating story."
I'm afraid Neil's days of 'roundhouse kicks' had long left him before the camera arrived, but he did know how throw an emotional punch.
Now we're taking our film to LA, home of the big action movie or 'boy movie' as Neil would call it. It feels like Neil is living out all his 007 fantasies, travelling all round the world: China, Russia, Romania, Kosovo, Bahrain, Mexico, Brazil... and now, most recently, we hear that he is to have an audience with Westminster at the House of Lords.
Neil, it would appear, is not one for sensitive missions. Now we just need a screening at the International Space Station and I will truly believe that he is very present somewhere, helping us to elbow for attention with the big boys.
Posted from Hollywood at the beginning of the I AM BREATHING run at Laemmle Music Hall.