Over the last 6 years, the Other Worlds Film Festival has become well known for championing smaller genre films, but the festival has also included some world class documentaries in their programming. At this year’s festival the fascinating doc I AM HUMAN continues this tradition with an intriguing look at neurological issues and the new therapies being developed to help people afflicted with various disorders.
I AM HUMAN follows three patients with neuro sensory or motor conditions. Bill suffered a spinal injury that has left him with no control of his body from the chest down. Anne is in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Stephen is completely blind after years of gradually declining vision. While their ailments may seem completely unrelated, each of these brave souls share one commonality- their brains no longer communicate correctly with certain nerves in their body.
The film begins with each person as they navigate day to day life with their maladies. Bill lives in a research facility where he is cared for by a cheerful staff who tend to his basic needs like feeding, cleaning, and clothing him daily. Anne struggles with everyday tasks that she once took for granted- especially her passion for creating art. Stephen relies on his beloved sister to help him with the daily challenges of living without sight. Though the film’s subjects once led active and vibrant lives, they now cope with their current situations with dignity despite their frustrating predicaments. As the film progresses, we get to learn about new research and advances in the neurological sciences that may have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for people like Bill, Anne, and Stephen.
Though the film is certainly for science or medical nerds, directors Taryn Southern and Elena Gaby present the complex subject matter in a way that makes it accessible to viewers with only cursory knowledge of how the body’s neurological system functions. With insightful explanation from leading researchers along with helpful (and dazzling) animation sequences that aid in illustrating complicated concepts, Southern and Gaby have created quite a compelling story out of a dreary and esoteric topic. Furthermore, the filmmakers definitely don’t shy away from showing the great lengths the trio go through to help restore at least some of their normal functions. While incredibly engrossing, sequences like Bill having electrodes places in his head via Frankenstein-like ports permanently affixed to the top of his skull, Anne’s deep brain stimulation while still conscious, and Stephen’s surgery to implant a chip in his eyes are not for the squeamish. Though some may find these scenes hard to watch, it feels like a necessary step in honestly depicting what patients with these types of injuries and conditions will go through to regain what most of us take for granted everyday.
While the film starts to feel a bit tiresome close to the end when the filmmakers touch on some of the ethical dilemmas that come with altering brain function, the overall film is captivating and surprisingly emotional as each character endures the trials and tribulations of their respective treatments. Despite this minor gripe, I AM HUMAN is an amazing look at today’s major medical breakthroughs and the lives that are improved because of continued scientific innovation.
Check out the trailer here!
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aka Annette Kellerman