Few people, at 28, expect to become sick with a fever that will leave them bedridden, possibly permanently, but that happened to Jennifer Brea. A Harvard doctoral student when she became ill in 2012, Brea has since been living with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also called chronic fatigue syndrome. She shares her battle with the debilitating disease, and calls for increased ME awareness, in “Unrest,” her impressive debut documentary screening at the Vogue.
Initially told by doctors that her symptoms, which included extreme pain and exhaustion, were psychologically caused, Brea eventually learned that her illness was genuine and incurable. She says about 1 million Americans and 17 million people worldwide have ME; about 25 percent of ME patients are too sick to leave their home.
Brea includes harrowing footage of herself in pain and barely able to speak. She shows the illness’ effect on her relationship with her husband, Internet analyst Omar Wasow.
He stands by Brea though terrible straits and a few darkly comic episodes, including ineffective, sometimes gruesome, purported miracle remedies.
Brea connects online with ME patients around the world; some are in the film. A particularly moving segment features the ME-community-organized 2016 Millions Missing protest, in which patients unable to participate in the flesh were represented by hundreds of shoes.
She addresses the fact that the majority of ME patients are female and explores how sexism has likely contributed to the failure to educate doctors about ME and fund research.
As often happens with video diaries, the film is limited in scope. But it is still an engrossing and important documentary that convincingly demonstrates that ME is real and gives voice to people whose homebound condition makes them largely invisible.
Starring: Jennifer Brea, Omar Wasow, Jessica Taylor, Lee-Ray Denton
Directed by: Jennifer Brea
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes