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A multifaceted take on one woman's experiences of bipolar

Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s films are compelling studies of characters with brave and interesting life-coping mechanisms. In The Mess,  Ellice Stevens suffers from bipolar, an overlooked form of mental illness not often explored on screen. When she feels low, her bedroom gets messy, she tidies up and feels better for a while. The film is a multi-faceted conversation about the many ways in which bipolar manifests itself for Ellice, and her acceptance of the cyclical nature of its highs and lows. 

Dorothy has a particular interest in working with non-professional actors to create semi-autobiographical films that merge documentary and fiction. The film features a piece of text written by the performer, but there are also unscripted moments. Pickard:

'We felt it was really important that on the day of the shoot there was space for her to speak in an open, intuitive way about her experience, so that it wasn’t only the composed, rehearsed narrative of bipolar that she’d discuss. Unsurprisingly, the unscripted parts were the moments that were the most emotionally raw.

Quite often I’ve found myself drawn to making films about my friends and family, both in documentaries and fictional works. I want to tell stories about subjects I know and understand well, so it makes sense to start with the people I know. A lot of their experiences are really powerful when seen on screen – whether it’s experiencing bipolar, converting to religion, or living with a physical disability – it’s issues that are relatable for a wider audience, yet they’re often absent from our screens. And there’s a trust and an openness that has come from years of friendship, which makes for a more complex and interesting film.

What particularly interested me in The Mess was the challenge of finding a visual language that explores the specificities of bipolar as something that’s distinct from depression and other mental illnesses. There’s great potential to use the film medium to explore mental illness, because you can create visual metaphors and layer dialogue over music, which helps to create a sense of someone’s mental state.'