“For me, I loved being anorexic” were the first words of Florence Pellacani’s 30-minute documentary titled ‘Millstone’.
On 19th November we celebrated International Men’s Day. The House of Commons marked the occasion by speaking openly for the first time on the high rates of male suicide. On October 11th of this year we celebrated World Mental Health Day.
Just as the issue of male suicide was put on the public agenda for International Men’s Day, so too was the issue of eating disorders in men foregrounded for World Mental Health Day.
A new video created by the local charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too’s release coincided with World Mental Health Day. The film attempts to raise awareness about eating disorders in men, and to remove the stigma associated with eating disorders, most notably that it is a disorder solely for by women. It follows numerous male victims, focusing on the mental health side rather than relying on gaunt and emaciated still shots of sufferers.
It really is a powerful first documentary film from Florence Pellacani. Not once do we see an anorexic figure. No, Pellacani is too cinematically intelligent to rely on the explicit. Rather, she gives us nine voices, men who were sufferers of anorexia, bulimia and comfort eating. A number of their mothers feature too.
It is not easy watching. For anyone who knows of, or has suffered from the illness understands that it goes so much beyond just the food base angle. It is a serious psychological disease, and although it is commonly associated with women, we are now seeing a rise in men who suffer from eating disorders.
The aim of Pellacani ‘Millstone’ is to offer an alternative representation of eating disorder in men, which are often ignored or misjudged by the media.
The film opens with Dave Chawner. He is the only one in the shot, close up and highly enigmatic on screen. It is difficult to believe that Dave suffered from anorexia for nine years. He declares proudly that he ‘adored being anorexic’ for numerous reasons. The control, the escape back to being almost childlike, Dave tells his viewers that a lot of people resort to anorexia to reclaim their childhood. For Dave, it was a game he ‘played with my soul’.
Dave explains that his entire day would centre on the consumption of food, which seems slightly ironic for an anorexic. He would count calories, try and starve himself and time to the exact minute when his next meal would be. Psychologically the illness was all empowering, it destroyed relationships, friendships, and everyday normalities became impossible.
Dave doesn’t pin point the exact moment in his life that he developed this illness, but others throughout the film can. In an incredibly poignant moment one victim declares that he has cerebral palsy and developed an eating disorder because he was being so badly bullied. He says that he felt it was the only thing that he had control of in his life.
Anorexia is not the only illness explored in this 30-minute film. Ryan suffered from bulimia, binge eating for days only then to throw up his food. He was worried when his parents became suspicious, so he began throwing up his food in odd places around the house. At one stage it got so bad that his parents left a bucket in his room.
There are also interviews with mothers whose sons had suffered from eating disorders. Their dismay upon learning about their son’s illness is something that so many can identify with. It is not only important to learn about this illness from the victims themselves, but also from those who live with it. Unfortunately eating disorders have a profound effect on not just your physical body, but your mental health and personal family relationships. Well done to Pellacani for having the hindsight to include a mother’s voice, it really gives the film a multi dimensional quality.
Males at any age can develop an eating disorder, although it is most common between the ages of 14-25. Eating disorders are growing twice as fast among men and boys as compared to women and girls, with a 24% increase in male anorexic and bulimic sufferers between 2000- 2009.
Florence Pellacani ‘Millstone’ is a thoughtful insight into the illness. It is heavy viewing but it doesn’t visualise any explicit material. Rather, she relies on the power of voice and confessionals from both former sufferers, and mothers who have endured the illness with their young teenage sons.
Cinematically it is an almost perfect film. The shots are crisp and sharp. The film does favour headshots and close-ups but somehow manages to not make the viewer feel swamped. Pellacani crosses to a plain black shot regularly throughout her 30-minute film, a technique that breaks up the confessionals and slows down the pace.
Her shots always seem fresh, and although she is basically only utilising the still close ups, through the working of different angles the frames are never monotonous.
It is important to recognise that eating disorders are not a solely female issue. Every single victim throughout the film highlighted how he felt emasculated and unable to seek help because of gender. Eating disorders are an ongoing health issue, but with new statistics released, it would seem that there is an increase in men who suffer from it.
It is a difficult illness to understand, because as Pellacani shows, it is about so much more than just weight and food. It is a control and mental health issue that needs addressing.
For more information please visit, http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/
To watch Florence Pellacani’s film please click on the link below:
Words: Catherine McMaster
Images: Catherine McMaster