Louise Oswald (who was Neil Platt's wife) looks at space travel for inspiration in our battle against MND/ALS/ELA.
While we were in LA with I AM BREATHING, we had time to visit Space Shuttle Endeavour at its final resting place in the California Science Centre. Before you get to see the Shuttle itself, you're ushered through an exhibition where you can touch the wheels from a spacecraft and see a realistic mock-up of mission control at work, but there was also Grand Finale, an almost heart-stopping installation of all the Shuttle launches together on one screen, which served as a strangely beautiful reminder of the 7-strong team lost in the disastrous Challenger launch in 1986.
As all the other 134 shuttles reach orbit, they disappear from the screen leaving just the image of the remains of the Challenger explosion falling back to earth, like a firework in daylight, all you could see was the grey trails (look at row 2, column 10). I watched it twice. I was standing there because of another brave astronaut, Neil's childhood occupations had him graduating through 'Cowboy' and 'Wizard' to 'Astronaut', and eventually he landed as an Architect.
I've managed to heal myself pretty well and I now have a wonderfully happy home life but there is one thing that I still feel is a hangover from my time watching Neil fight MND; I feel like I've lived through 'the worst', and I now find it difficult to connect with certain emotions because I either had to bury them to get through the day or rationalise them and take out the panic element. It is part of being human though and I miss these emotions sometimes. I want to be able to empathise again.
Sometimes a powerful piece like this space shuttle montage will bring emotions back. I think it's part of grief, you never know where the next trigger is going to come from and it always takes you by surprise. I feel like I'm now at a stage where these emotions would be welcome again; death is what gives life its meaning.
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!
Leading up to the week-long runs of I AM BREATHING in cinemas in New York City and Los Angeles, Emma Davie (the film's co-director) and Louise Oswald (who was Neil Platt's wife) were guests in the studio of the Huffington Post's channel, HuffPost Live. This is their 20-minute interview.
On RogerEbert.com, the site of the late and legendary movie critic, Scott Jordan Harris has written one of our all-time favourite reviews:
"'I Am Breathing' is an earnest and important film. It deserves to be seen by anyone who is interested in documentaries and anyone who is interested in the simple human stories movies too often overlook."
In a new review, IndieWire called I AM BREATHING "a genuinely inspirational documentary on one man’s last days".
"What is most noteworthy about “I Am Breathing” is what it is not: horrendously depressing. Sure, it is incredibly sad, especially every scene with young Oscar. But “I Am Breathing” is not a documentary intended to induce sobbing. It is, instead, a film about dying that is stunningly alive, wildly optimistic, and always insightful and entertaining."
Under the headline "Strong Enough To Laugh", the New York Times also points out how "Mr. Platt's good-humored attitude helps keep the potent material from turning mawkish" and concludes that the film, "amid the cinema's hit parade of violent but curiously instantaneous deaths, reminds us what it means to bear witness to the very end."
In the Village Voice, Ernest Hardy writes:
"Platt and his story are inherently moving, and co-directors Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon wisely employ a light, unobtrusive touch as their camera captures the erosion of Platt's health. Platt never gives in to self-pity, and is instead a funny, droll, philosophical subject."
"The last couple of years in one tragically truncated life are chronicled with a winning combination of sensitivity and humor in I Am Breathing."
"Neil Platt reveals a profound honesty and wisdom. In the short time span of the film, he becomes a friend, a member of the family. Anyone who has comforted a loved one as death nears will recognize and honor the sensitivity with which this film is made. The film is not only a moving tribute to Neil Platt, it is also his legacy, one that touches and teaches all of us. RIP Neil Platt, and thank you, your family, the filmmakers and the Scottish Documentary Institute for giving us I AM BREATHING."
Women's eNews writes about this "profoundly moving documentary":
"This heartbreaking and inspirational film is a must-see."
NY-based Film critic James van Maanen writes on his blog Trust Movies:
"What separates us as human beings from other life forms? This question's been asked and answered many times, but according to Neil Platt -- the subject of what is certainly the most moving and maybe one of, even the best documentary of the year -- it's our adaptability. As shown here, Neil certainly proves adaptable. He's dying, you see, and must adapt to that.
How he does it makes for the meat of this 73-minute movie that had me -- and everyone around me -- at the press screening for us cynical critics moved to the point of long silence at the movie's close, followed by an audible inhale/exhale. We won't even go into the tears. How the filmmakers -- Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon -- achieve this is exactly right. They go for, and capture, such intimacy that we're right there, as close to Mr. Platt as possible, not only in terms of distance but of thought, feelings and spirit. And, my, does Neil have a lot of that last one!"
The East and West Coast of the Unites States will be treated to a week-long theatrical run of I AM BREATHING!
On September 6 the film will open at the IFC Center in New York, followed by another week in Los Angeles from September 13 at Laemmle Music Hall.
We've noticed that the screenings were particularly successful when a local MND Association was involved. Therefore, this little office is now working hard to engage ALS organisations (the American equivalent of MND) to support our upcoming screenings in the US.
If you live in the US and would like to see I AM BREATHING screened in your local cinema do get in touch with suggestions. You can also support our US theatrical release by organising your own public screening. Please have a look here to see all booking options.
Feel free to spread the word and let America know we're coming!