It's hard to imagine how difficult it is to make a movie about mental illness, let alone how challenging it is to make that movie. It takes sensitivity, courage, and a great deal of accuracy at the very least to make the film believable, endearing, and relatable to the audience.
Turns out, Britt, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film, succeeded in creating such a moving, accurate movie because he lived it.
Reginald Colbert (Britt) is a young filmmaker, working on a documentary about Volkswagen Beetles, which hold a special significance for him, when his Schizophrenic mother Darolyn (Toreenee Wolf) has a psychotic breakdown. He's then left to juggle trying to help his in-denial mom get the court-ordered treatment she needs, which requires him to testify against her, and finishing the movie.
Where another actor may have tried to play up the drama, Britt, a relatively inexperienced actor, portrayed Reginald in an understated way. Even in the midst of frustrating situations, he keeps an even tone, only letting his emotions go once on the way to court and a few times in order to get his mother's attention. After he lashes out at her, regret immediately fills his face.
After learning the story was based on Britt's own experiences with his mother, his mastery of the role makes sense. In Unsound, Britt told his own story of the struggles of being a parent's caretaker, and he said, in a Q&A after the Monday, March 30, screening, that he was lucky to find Wolf, who superbly walked the line between Darolyn being endearing and terrifying.
The movie wasn't all heavy, though. Britt chose to add some levity in the scenes from time to time, like when Reginald's friend asks him to be in the documentary he's making and Reginald is hesitant, saying that it's weird for a filmmaker to be in his own film -- an unintentionally self-aware moment Britt later explained. "Dramas, they don't work if it's all drama," he said.
While the acting throughout the film was among the best we saw during 2015 PFF, it was the artistic cinematography that caught us most off guard in the best way possible.
From the opening sequence, which showed Darolyn smoking a cigarette below an overpass and silhouetted against a stream of light spilling through an opening above, it was clear this film was a work of art in more than just the storytelling.
The creative choices Britt, who started Unsound as a student at the University of Arizona, made while filming both pushed the story forward, developed the characters, and kept scenes that potentially could have been slower or dull exciting and engaging. Instead of filming the scene where the cops forcefully arrest Darolyn, Britt chose to keep the camera on his character, who reacted to only hearing the struggle and his mother calling out for him after the officers told him to stay in his room.
We don't know exactly how many different kinds of cameras he used throughout the filming, but we saw at least a GoPro, DSLRs, and point-and-shoot cameras being used.
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Overall, the movie was polished, visually pleasing, moving, and simply entertaining. Britt said it took about four and a half to five years to make the film, and you better believe it shows.
Phoenix Film Festival continues through Thursday, April 2, at Harkins Scottsdale 101. Visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.