SXSW Film: “Unrest” examines pain-riddled life with chronic fatigue

“Unrest.” Contributed by Shella Films

Once upon a time, Jen Brea seemingly had a perfect life. She was pursuing her doctorate at Harvard, where she had also fallen in love and met her future husband. Then, as if a spell had worn off, things went off the rails.

Her intensely personal and innovative documentary shows us how quickly chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as M.E. or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) can alter a person’s life. For Jen, it began with a fever of 104.7 degrees. She never quite felt better after that and suffered six infections in a year. Her doctor told her that she was just stressed out and didn’t really take her concerns seriously.

After being told by a specialist that it was all in her head, she picked up a camera and started to document the pain. From there, it was a natural progression to connect with other people who could understand what she was going through.

Not willing to give up despite many difficult days and dark thoughts, she began to connect with other people struggling with the disease that affects an estimated 1 million Americans, nearly 85 percent of whom are female. With the help of a film crew to hit up locations and a Skype account to conduct interviews from bed, we’re able to see how Jen utilized the internet to form a network of friends from around the world suffering from similar symptoms. In the process, she becomes an activist against the misconception that chronic fatigue syndrome is somehow a mental disorder.

Fraught with honesty, “Unrest” gives us a raw and up-close look at how a chronic illness can impact a relationship. Her husband Omar sacrifices his time and energy to ensure that she is taken care of, but the situation clearly takes its toll on both of them.

This unflinching debut feature screens again at 3:45 p.m. March 13 at the Alamo South Lamar; 1:30 p.m. March 14 at the Vimeo Theatre; and at 4 p.m. March 16 at the Alamo South Lamar. “Unrest” is expected to air on PBS’ “Independent Lens” in early 2018.


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