I Am Breathing: Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon’s Powerful Docu of Neil Platt, Diagnosed with ALS

In the documentary, I Am Breathing, filmmakers Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon craft a life-affirming, emotionally touching portrait of the last months of Neil Platt, a 34-year-old British architect and father diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as Motor Neuron Disease (MND) in the UK.

IFC will release the film in New York, September 6-12 at IFC Center, and in Los Angeles September 13-19 at Laemmle Music Hall, with additional national outreach screenings in other cities.

According to the ALS Association, every day, 15 people are diagnosed with ALS–more than 5,600 people per year. As many as 30,000 Americans may currently be affected by ALS. Annually, ALS is responsible for two deaths per 100,000 people.

Faced with the unimaginable, Platt shares his own story in what he called, “a tale of fun and laughs with a smattering of upset and devastation.” Within a year, he goes from being a healthy 30-something British bloke, with a sense of humor, to becoming completely paralyzed from the neck down, due to the devastating illness he has inherited, ALS. As his body gets weaker, his perspective on life changes. His humor remains, but new kind of wisdom emerges:“It’s amazing how adaptable we are when we have to be. It’s what separates us and defines us as human beings.”

Knowing that he only has a few months to live, and while still possessing the ability to speak, Neil puts together a letter and memory box for his baby son, Oscar, and communicates his experience and thoughts in a blog, The Platitude, and in this film. Platt’s direct communication mingles with images of the sensory details of a life well lived, which should make all of us revalue our “ordinary” lives and celebrate each “mundane” experience.

Platt’s blogs form the text’s narration as he tells his own story through memories of his life–the joy of falling in love, partying with his mates, fast motorbike rides. Through his determination to share his final journey, Neil Platt makes us ask crucial existential questions about our own lives.

What’s special about I Am Breathing is that it is both bleak and gloomy in its unflinching portraiture, but (in moments) also morbidly funny and inspirational. Based on Platt’s poignant observations, the filmmakers have taken an admirable approach, one that’s both heartbreakingly touching and witty and sardonic. Particularly moving is Platt’s efforts to communicate with his son Oscar, establish a rapport before it’s too late, explains why he wants to leave his home and move to a hospice.

Platt’s last, unfinished sentence of his blog, which uses the words devastating and degrading, in acknowledging the horror that Louise and his friends have been trying to protect him from, will break your heart but also uplift your spirits, due to the fact that Platt refuses to perceive himself–and to be perceived by others–as a victim.

Though I Am Breathing is about a particular man and a specific disease, it has broader significance and meaning for other individuals proudly suffering ad fighting various illnesses.

About Neil Platt

Neil Platt was diagnosed with ALS in February 2008 by Professor Chris Shaw. Neil lost his own personal battle with the disease a year later, but through his family, friends and this docu, he wanted to continue to raise awareness around this devastating illness. ALS/MND has been described as the last truly incurable disease of the modern day. ALS/MND is a rapidly progressive and fatal disease. It can affect any adult at any time and attacks the motor neurons that send messages from the brain to the muscles, leaving people unable to walk, talk or feed themselves. Ten days after Neil died, Shaw made a very significant breakthrough in MND research by identifying one of the genes that causes it, and more discoveries are being made every day. Neil Platt was among the small proportion (5-10%) of people with MND who have a family history of the disease, caused by genetic mistakes that can be passed from one generation to the next.

Since Neil’s death, his widow Louise Oswald continues to fulfill her promise to Neil to raise awareness of ALS/MND. Louise is working closely with the filmmakers on the outreach campaign, providing interviews for national press and making many personal appearances to speak at screenings. Louise has been writing a book about her experience of caring for her family in the eighteen months between the birth of her son and the death of her husband. Neil’s words join her in the latter part of the book as she adds comment to each entry of The Plattitude. Louise lives in a small village near St. Andrews in Scotland with Oscar and her new husband Robin.

I Am Breathing has screened at many acclaimed film festivals including World Premiere in IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary, Amsterdam 2012; Best Documentary at Riverun Film Fest 2013; Nordic Premiere at DocPoint, Helsinki Documentary Film Fest 2013; Edinburgh Film Festival 2013; Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Fest 2013; True/False Film Fest 2013, and others.

About the Filmmakers:

Emma Davie is a documentary filmmaker based in Scotland. She also teaches at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, where she runs the Film and TV Department. Previous work includes What Age Can You Start Being An Artist? for Channel 4 (2004, nominated for Grierson Award); Gigha: Buying Our Island (2002), a one-hour film for BBC/Scottish Screen; and Flight, a BBC/Canadian co-production (2000).

Morag McKinnon is a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art. Her film Donkeys won a 2011 Scottish BAFTA for Best Feature. It was the second part in the Scottish/Danish co-production with Lars von Trier’s company, the follow up to Red Road. She has directed series and shorts, including the BAFTA-winning series Buried (2004) and the short Home, which also won a BAFTA for Best Short and 16 international awards including the Fox Searchlight New Talent Award. Her other award-winning short, Birthday (2001) won the Silver Bear at the Chicago Film Festival.

Credits:

Running time: 73 Minutes

UK/Denmark
Directed by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon
Produced by Sonja Henrici
Co-Producer: Sigrid Dyekjær
Executive Producer: Noé Mendelle