The concept of this documentary had me asking many questions before I entered the Poly theatre.
A man named Malcom Brabant reacting to the yellow fever vaccine by going through years of psychotic episodes, with his wife Trine Villemann documenting the majority of content using her iPod.
Entering into the theatre my initial perspective was that the not so conventional documentary would be potentially quite comical.
Once the audience were seated, Malcom and Trine took to the stage to introduce the piece. Malcom addressed the audience immediately asking which audience members were interested in the topic of mental health. At this point my facial expression altered to a very obvious confused look as I searched around the auditorium looking for people to answer this question through a raise of their hands. The whole auditorium raised their hands in unison. It became apparent that I had the occasion confused, that this documentary had more layers to it than I had anticipated. It seemed quite fitting that Malcom described the documentary as a “multi-layer piece” before the lights came up on the Poly theatre screen.
The documentary progressively takes us through the stages of Malcom’s decent into an extremely dark place with the continuous positivity of his wife who was permanently by his side. We saw Malcom digress from an 18 hour fever after the vaccine, to his first hospitalisation, to admission to a psychiatric unit, to Malcom detailing his episode where he drew a cross in blood on his clinic wall.
I had to force myself to take my eyes off of the screen for a few seconds to take in the viewers expressions whilst the piece continued. There was an obvious fixation on Malcom’s narrative because it was so raw. Essentially we were witnessing an assured and highly regarded reporter, deteriorate through hallucinations and disillusions that challenged his perceptions of reality. Much to the dismay of his family members who could only hope that the organic psychosis brought on by the vaccine would simply wear off.
The piece was laced with jumps between emotion, disbelief and some questionable moments of humour where the the audience hesitantly laughed at something that seemed so ridiculous but was always in the context of a man in an unstable mindset. As an audience member this was a confusing set of reactions to deal with. One moment we were confronted by Malcom exclaiming “I am the messiah” to moments of calm where Malcom assured his wife that their son was the saviour.
In true style of the internet service in Cornwall, the documentary froze at 37 minutes leaving another 30 minutes of unseen footage. My frustration came not from the device that deprived the audience of the next harrowing section of the documentary but for Malcom and Trine sitting there whilst the video fluxed in a scene where Malcom revisits his experience from a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. How incredibly frustrating for the author, producer and subject of this piece to sit their whilst the technology does no favours for showcasing the depth of this experience for Malcom in that moment. Luckily for the audience Malcom and Trine skipped straight into the Q&A section of the evening, giving the audience an extended time of interaction to delve deeper into the 37 minutes we were lucky to have viewed.
Malcom starts the Q&A by comically stating, “for someone who boosts that he is the messiah, I can’t work a piece of technology”. Malcom truly does confront this gruelling experience with such an admirable perspective and one that aims to do good from a disaster. Malcom is an open book in this Q&A perhaps it has something to do with the intimacy of the scenes we just witnessed. He details his contemplation of suicide on New Years Eve in 2011 and his life traumas that caused hallucinations of close friends and colleagues who had passed during his episodes. Continuous phrases like “since I went mad” were used as he spoke with such assurance about the real driving factor of this documentary. Trine passionately details the importance of mental health and for the revoking of the vaccinations that are delivered everyday in poor economical countries that rely on this vaccines to live. The message is strong, the question about vaccinations is a topic worth discussing and we need to confront it. Trine was heartfelt with her approach to the topic, “I could not believe that my husband was disintegrating before my eyes” and that made me want to listen intently.
It’s clear that my initial perspective towards this documentary had entirely altered as I walked out of the screening. The social messages that appeared from someones horrifying experience resounded through that theatre in the Q&A section and secured firmly into my mindset. Now I know the significance of the recent articles in the news about vaccines, the conversation needs to happen and its real life narratives like Malcom’s that can carry such pivotal message. These stories cement the issues that our society has and Malcom and Trine are heroic for projecting it on the big screen for Falmouth to witness this evening. Malcom was incredibly unwell but is now thriving and I hope that his experience can be projected onto even larger screens. Good luck Malcom and Trine.