Turning the camera on one’s self to document life can be an unnerving experience in itself, but imagine doing this following a life-threatening situation, like a brain hemorrhage, while also undergoing recovery. Clearly, not just anyone could carry out such a project. It takes a special person like Lotje Sodderland. She has inspired us with her courage, creativity, and remarkable positivity in the documentary MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN which chronicles the personal aftermath of her brain hemorrhage. Naturally, we wanted to track down the amazing Lotje and talk with her about the experience of making the documentary.
Were you drawn to documentary film before the experience chronicled in MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN?
Yes, I used to be a documentary producer. I worked in Amsterdam, Cambodia, Paris, and London and loved working on stories about reality.
Will you continue to work with documentary film?
Although I can’t do the same things I did before the stroke, my work in the documentary field is actually more exciting and inspiring now than it was before. I am able to shoot and direct my own films, rather than work on the production side. I’ve just completed a documentary about the future of neuroscience for the UK Broadcaster Channel 4 and am soon heading to India to shoot a film about women enslaved in the sex industry.
Though the film documents your recovery, you and your co-director Sophie Robinson have said this is more than just a recovery a film. How else would you characterize this film?
The film is about personal transformation, the nature of reality, and the fragility of every human life, as well as, being a personal voyage into the human brain and mind.
In the film, you use experimental effects to convey the way you were experiencing the world after the brain hemorrhage which you said felt like living in a David Lynch film. Lynch actually did get involved in the film as executive producer. How did his involvement impact the film and your personal journey?
Mr Lynch presented the voice of wisdom in all the insanity following my stroke. I was having a dialogue with him in my imagination, because I thought he would completely understand this surreal world of warped language and perception. Then the communication went from being in my head to actually becoming a reality, and it really helped the healing process to have him support me and the film. He’s a very kind and generous creature.
You obviously underwent a time of massive upheaval in your life as a result of the brain hemorrhage, yet you kept a very positive overall outlook by focusing on what you can do as opposed to what you lost. How did you maintain this forward momentum and ability to accept and adapt?
I think I’ve been blessed with an optimistic way of seeing the world, and this was very helpful. I’m also a curious person and my interest in the situation gave me something to help try to understand it. The fact I was able to make a film while recovering was such a huge part of the recovery process, and I will be forever grateful to everyone who got involved in making it happen, especially Sophie Robinson who was so generous and fun throughout the long and sometimes challenging production. The best part is that now, many people are able to use the film as a way to explain and understand their own traumas.
What has been the primary conversation you have observed people are having around the film?
I am not really sure to be honest as I can’t read and don’t really know how people are responding. I do know that many people have been in touch to offer thanks for the film for all number of reasons—from young stroke survivors to those suffering from depression or heartbreak, it seems to be providing a tool for positivity which is just the best gift ever.
Often after watching documentaries, people feel inspired to apply the lessons learned to their own life. Is there something particular that you would like people to walk away with after seeing the film?
I hope the film reminds us that as human beings we are not indestructible, and that love and simplicity are the most important ingredients to a happy life.
What would your documentary playlist consist of?
Into Great Silence; Forest of Bliss; Gambling, Gods and LSD; Bells From The Deep; and anything by Vincent Moon
MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is Influence Film Club’s featured film for April 2017. Each month Influence Film Club hand-picks one of our favorite docs as our club’s featured film to watch and discuss together. Throughout the month, starting with our newsletter and continuing on our website and social media we will extend the conversation by exploring the various issues touched on in the film, providing filmmaker interviews, suggesting ways to influence, and discussing documentaries in general – because after all, We Love Docs.
Interview by: Nicole Smith
As soon as the final credits were rolling upon my first viewing of IDA’S DIARY, there was so much more I longed to know about this remarkable woman. Luckily, Ida was willing to answer a few of my questions, shedding even more light on her journey and offering her thoughts on what it means to live a life battling with and rising above mental illness.
Tell us about your life since filming the last footage for the film.
After the filming wrapped in 2014, a lot of different stuff has happened in my life. I’ve enrolled in a two-year activity course, I feel that I master my life better and I attend regular sessions with a very good therapist. The therapy supplies insights that help me on a daily basis. I also attend meaningful activities and take some spare jobs when I have the time.
How do you think the film can help others suffering from a mental illness?
I think it can help showing people that they are not alone. I knew absolutely nothing about psychiatric illness before I was admitted to a psychiatric ward when I was 18. If I had known more before that happened, I might have sought out help at a much earlier stage. At the time I associated people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses with axe murderers and other horror movie clichés. I really didn’t know that people have a mental health and that I was mentally ill. Borderline is maybe one of the most stigmatizing diagnoses you can have. And there has been talk about changing the name of the diagnose to something that better reflects what the illness represents – sometimes Borderline gets nicknamed “Good Girl Syndrome”. I wish I saw a film like this when I was 15. It would’ve shown me that I was not alone and helped me gain insight, seek out help and guidance.
Do you still keep a video diary?
I still film a little, but far from as much as before. I film maybe every other week to document how I feel and what I’ve been up to. It helps me locating patterns in myself and makes me more able to handle bad periods. Every now and then I also get ideas about making my own film; I might dress out, play different characters and make parodies. That provides me with a lot to film. I have my own channel on youtube.
What have you learned from sharing your story with others? Do you feel more connected to the world having told your story through film?
I’ve learned a lot about both others and myself by sharing my experiences in the film. I’ve crossed many borders and surrendered to the process (to me the act of surrendering is positively charged). I accept life the way it is. I also feel that I’ve gained more trust from the people around me. People I talk to feel relieved that they’re not alone, and they really appreciate it when I commend them for the great effort they put into reworking their lives. It’s not only about pulling yourself together. Psychiatric illness can be so complex. So, yes, I feel more connected to the world after having told my story.
In your darkest times, what kept you going?
What kept me going was family and friends. I’ve thought a lot about whether I would’ve been easier on them if I were dead. Sadly, I’m not alone in thinking this way. Feeling like a worthless strain on society that also represents a huge economic cost when you are hurting inside also added to the death wish. Sometimes there was no hope, but I had to hang in there for my family. The worst thing for me when it comes to self-harm has been the shame and guilt I’ve felt for my family. It feels so bad to be the reason for their pain. But it is a disease. I really can’t help it. But you need guidance on how to handle your disease without cutting. At present I’ve only cut myself twice the last 5 years. I’ve gained a lot of experience on how to deal with adversities in alternative ways and that gives me hope for the future. And if I slip and have a relapse, I both hope and know that I can get back on the horse again.
What advice would you give to someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder?
There is hope for everybody. Have faith in your betterment. Have faith in the fact that your symptoms can be less intense over time. Know that help and guidance are available.
What are your hopes for the film?
My hopes for the film are that it will create more openness around psychiatric illness and show that people with Borderline are not diagnoses, but people. People with psychiatric illnesses are so much more than just their illness, but still they are being stamped as if the diagnose was an identity. I’m still sick, but that’s only one part of me. I have good periods and bad periods. I handle the bad periods better now. I’m not Borderline – I’m Ida. This has been one of my main goals for the film; showing that a person with a psychiatric illness is so much more than simply the illness. Then there’s the need for openness and understanding. I really wish there would be a mandatory class in school about mental health – as an integrated part of a focus on health in general.
Would you be interested in working in film – having gone through the process of IDA’S DIARY?
The process of making the film has been very exciting and interesting, and I’d like to work with something that has a value for other people. I really hope this film will mean something for other people out there. Other than that I have a small job as a helper aid and I’ve enrolled in a program to become a voluntary social helper for people of all ages who for some reason are lonely or lack social interaction. In the future I would like to work more actively with mental health awareness – at schools for example. There is so much ignorance. How are students supposed to learn about these things when algebra trumps are teaching about how the body and mind work. I really would like to make a difference in that department.
Where do you picture yourself in five years?
Well, 5 years ago I had absolutely no idea or even a fantasy that there would be a film called IDA’S DIARY, so I honestly don’t know. But I imagine I will be even better – that the sick side of me will be even smaller and the healthy side bigger. Other than that I envision a house with a view of the sea, a cat, a sailing boat and someone to love.
Do you feel that mental illness is being accepted and embraced more by society than it was 10 years ago? What additional steps can be taken to bring the issue into the light and normalize it?
Absolutely. When I was introduced to the world of psychiatry 10 years ago, I knew nothing. Now there are blogs, more and more people are open about psychiatric illness and there is an increased media focus. But we are not quite there yet. There’s still a lot of taboos and ignorance surrounding the issue. We’re on our way, but we still have some way to go.
Interview by: Sarah Snavely
Our film of the month for March is Lucy Walker’s THE CRASH REEL which tracks the exhilarating and inspiring journey of U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce, whose fast-hurtling career is halted by a near fatal crash that leaves him with a traumatic brain injury. This film is so much more than a winter sports flick – it explores passion, drive, and when to draw the line, life transformative experiences, is an inspiring story for anyone whose life has been touched by Traumatic Brain Injury, and celebrates the power, strength and support of family and friends.
Given that our founder Cristina is also a mother of four wonder-boys, the character in the film that really stuck out to us here at Influence Film Club was Kevin’s mother Pia, so we couldn’t wait to take a moment to find out more about her experience of the film and how she has fostered such the genuine family bond that we all take witness to and admire in THE CRASH REEL.
The Crash Reel is a film about so much more than snowboarding – it is about dedication, drive, traumatic brain injury, and also very much about family. What were your initial thoughts around the idea of making a documentary about Kevin’s experience – and ultimately about your family?
My initial thought was that Kevin’s story about his injury and his amazing recovery were a tale very much worth telling. I really did not expect that the film would include as much about our family as it does. But because the film has had such a positive impact, I am very grateful that Lucy Walker (Director), Julian Cautherley (Producer) and their team made such a powerful documentary.
Lucy met Kevin after his injury, and became a part of a healing process that often occurs behind closed doors. What was your experience having these intimate family moments revealed?
Because Lucy operates with a very small team and is such a sensitive and thoughtful person, it really did not feel like an imposition to have her filming some intimate parts of our family interactions. Some of the footage for the documentary was shot by our son Adam who wanted to capture some of the more touching moments of Kevin’s recovery. Of utmost importance to me was to portray an accurate, honest and truthful picture of the process of Kevin’s recovery. I feel Lucy and Julian did an amazing job bringing all of this to life on the screen.
Did the documentary have any effect on the healing process for your family?
I think one of the benefits of the documentary for our family has been seeing how something so difficult and challenging can end up having such a very positive impact on a number of other families and people struggling with similar issues. It has been very rewarding to know that something beneficial can come out of a life changing experience that at first seemed so unexpected and so frightening.
You have four sons, and the film portrays your family as incredibly tight knit – even during the most challenging moments you speak to each other from the heart with kindness and respect. One of the most striking moments is when your son David, who has Down syndrome, asks Kevin not to go back to professional snowboarding. Is there something you would recommend to other parents to foster this type of communication and bond?
My suggestion to other parents in terms of fostering family communication, is to promote and encourage each person to share their feelings in an open environment that includes respect and understanding. I think it’s important for each person in the family to feel heard understood and seen by others. In our family, we make an effort to not shy away from difficult conversations, but rather promote being open and honest with each other.
What are some of the most important things you have learned that family and friends can do to support someone with brain injury?
One of the most important things that friends and family can do to support someone with a brain injury, is to realize that the recovery is a “marathon and not a sprint.” The process is a life-time effort and both patience and support are essential. Most helpful has been our friends and family who have been with us for the very long haul of recovery with both understanding and kindness. Support for healthy choices like food, drinks and exercise are also very important. Kevin has been so fortunate to have FRENDS who really have stood by him through this ordeal. They have been open and willing to learn what kinds of things support his recovery and what does not.
Often after watching documentaries, people feel moved to learn more, take action or get involved in some way. Is there anything that you recommend to people who feel inspired by Kevin’s story?
One of the best things to come from our experience with Kevin’s traumatic brain injury is our Love Your Brain Foundation. We welcome support, involvement and participation by others. Kevin is now doing a significant amount of public speaking and sharing information about what it means to truly “love your brain,” as his story continues to inspire and touch so many lives. Adam is the executive director of the foundation and he and his team are making access to yoga available to people who have sustained traumatic brain injury.
The work they are doing is already having an incredibly positive impact on many individuals and families.
THE CRASH REEL is Influence Film Club’s featured film for March. Each month Influence Film Club hand-picks one of our favorite docs as our club’s featured film to watch and discuss together. Throughout the month, starting with our newsletter and continuing on our website and social media we will extend the conversation by exploring the various issues touched on in the film, providing filmmaker interviews, suggesting ways to Influence, and discussing documentaries in general – because after all, We Love Docs.
Interview by: Isis Marina Graham