A powerful call for greater research into a wide-ranging disease that still divides medical opinion.



We have seen a number of moving documentaries about people living with disabilities and this one, a film about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, joins their number. What makes it singular, however, is the fact that it is the work of the person who is its subject, Jennifer Brea: not only is she credited as director but she also shares a writing credit with Kim Roberts. But, while Jennifer's own story is central, Unrest is more than an honest autobiography since, drawing on many additional examples of those with CFS, its aim is to share information on the subject and to underline the lack of funding for adequate research into this most puzzling of diseases.


Jennifer's film begins appropriately on home ground in Princeton, New Jersey. Pictures from her earlier days briefly reveal her childhood and her meeting at the age of 25 with a fellow student at Harvard, Omar Wasow, who would become her husband. But the home movies soon take on a different emphasis since Jennifer starts to film herself and her symptoms after suffering from a fever, this being ahead of the time when it would become clear that she had been struck down by CFS with its physical and cognitive aspects transforming her life. The degree of her debilitation would vary, but she counts it as an achievement that when the manifestation of the disease was at its greatest she yet resisted killing herself (the film reveals that suicide is the fate of many with CFS).


Unrest proceeds to follow Jennifer’s experiences supported by Omar, but it branches out through computer contacts with other victims willing to be filmed (one in this country who succumbed at the age of fourteen lives in Kent). Experts such as Dr Nancy Klimas and Dr Paul Cheney appear to fill us in on the history of the disease that was once branded a mental problem but which is now widely regarded as physical and linked to problems in the immune system. But not all accept this and Unrest underlines the situation in Denmark citing in particular the case of a teenage daughter forcefully removed from her parents' care. With CFS predominantly affecting females, there are those like Dr Per Fink who, while moving beyond old theories of hysteria, still persist in seeing this as an exclusively psychological problem.


The power and variety of what we learn here make Unrest a very impressive work which is also as it happens a very accomplished piece of filmmaking for much of its length. Given the quality, it is a sad irony that the film becomes repetitive in its last quarter (even literally so in that some footage is seen for the second time). It is understandable that with such a personal project Jennifer Brea should be unwilling to let go, but the fact is that if more vigorously cut down in length Unrest would have been even more potent. At least half of the last twenty minutes or so could have been sacrificed to advantage, but despite that this is a film that deserves attention.




Featuring  Jennifer Brea, Omar Wasow, Jessica L E Taylor, Samuel Bearman, Ruby Taylor, Colin Taylor, Nancy Klimas, Paul Cheney, Ren Gill, Lee-Ray Denton, Jessica Harden, Ron Davis.


Dir Jennifer Brea, Pro Jennifer Brea, Lindsey Dryden, Patricia E. Gillespie and Alysa Nahmias, Screenplay Jennifer Brea and Kim Roberts, Ph Sam Heesen and Christian Laursen, Ed Kim Roberts and Emiliano Battista, Music Bear McCreary.


Shella Films and Little by Little Films/Impact Partners/Chicken & Egg Pictures-Together Films.
98 mins. USA/UK. 2017. Rel: 20 October 2017. Cert. 12A.