By Melissa Swanson
I was attending a fibromyalgia support group meeting at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute where I met Sophie Meath, Director of A Happy Seven. She had asked if she and a few of the actors could attend a meeting, listen and ask questions. It was at the beginning of her project and she wanted to hear from us what we would like people to know about living with fibromyalgia. The premier is in Minneapolis, MN on May 12th, 2016 which happens to be International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. I fell in love with the idea and the compassion and passion that Sophie showed when she talked about the film and I know you will too!
Melissa: Why did you choose to make a film about fibromyalgia?
Sophie: I chose to make a film about fibromyalgia simply because it needed to be done. My younger sister can’t remember a time when she didn’t have fibro, but she wasn’t diagnosed until just over a year ago when her symptoms started getting worse. Thankfully, she and I are very close, and so she was able to deeply confide in me about her struggles. It was heartbreaking to see my little sister grapple with all the limitations of fibro that constricted her future and killed some of her dreams, not to mention the intense pain she constantly endures. As I began to understand the unique burdens that having invisible illnesses and chronic pain produces, I began to recognize the incredible lack of understanding surrounding her and others in her position. As a filmmaker, I create art that is a remarkably powerful platform for empathy and understanding, so it was a natural development for me to decide to make a film about something so important to me that I’d been becoming more empathetic and understanding about myself.
Melissa: How did you conduct research about fibromyalgia and those living with it?
Sophie: In order to equip myself to create this film, I did extensive research on fibromyalgia through a number of means. A great deal of my research came from the NFMCPA’s online resources as well as many medical sites. I sought out blogs written by people who suffer from fibromyalgia to better understand the personal journeys, and I also spoke one-on-one with a number of women who have fibro. The research phase was admittedly hard for me to push through because I would often conclude those sessions with a very heavy heart for my sister and fibro fighters everywhere, but that only reinforced my conviction that the film needed to be made.
Melissa: How did you come up with the name A Happy Seven?
Sophie: The inspiration behind the name for this film stems from something my sister says. After her diagnosis, I was trying to better understand what she was dealing with, so she started using a scale to make it simpler for me, with 1 being no pain and 10 being debilitating agony. On an average day, I’d ask my sister how she was doing, and she’d smile at me and “I’m a happy seven today.” Even though she was experiencing pain that would be debilitating for me, she was still able to endure the pain, smile, and do life. If she didn’t choose to be happy, she said, then being at a seven would ruin her day, but if she tried to be optimistic and find the beauty in the challenge, it made everything a little bit easier. She and I both understand that the scale analogy can be frustrating for many people with chronic pain, and I know that a number doesn’t even begin to sum up the countless symptoms, but for people who don’t understand fibro, it’s an incredibly helpful kick-start in the right direction.
Melissa: Who is your film’s audience?
Sophie: Our film’s target audience is everyone who suffers from chronic pain and invisible illnesses. Though A Happy Seven is specifically about fibro, it touches on struggles that people with countless other disorders will be able to relate to. Our target audience doesn’t stop there, though; we would love for it to include those who have never heard of fibro, those who’ve heard it mentioned but don’t really know what it is, and those who have friends and family with fibro. Everyone could stand to learn more about this disorder and how to support those in their lives from suffer from it.
Melissa: A Happy Seven is an indie short film. Most of the general public probably do not know what that means. Can you explain what is an indie short film? How long is the film?
Sophie: Indie is the fun nickname for independent. Lasting approximately 17 minutes, A Happy Seven is an independent short film in that it exists and has been created independent of an official company and that no one besides myself and my team owns any portion of it. Its crew is also comprised of people who have committed to it because they are passionate about its message and not because it’s their job.
Melissa: Can you tell us a little about the plot? the characters?
Sophie: The plot in A Happy Seven isn’t the kind that’s typically found in narrative films. It circulates around the main character, Nora, who has acute fibro, as she interacts with people who range from understanding and supportive to ignorant and insensitive. It explores how those different relationships impact her emotionally, and it also tries to showcase her pain, fatigue, and fibro fog in a way that viewers without fibro will be able to understand better. Nora’s relationship with her sister is her safe place, and the way that they interact and the understanding between them is a precious part of the film.
Melissa: This film has a lot of sound/music. Why and how did you chose the sound/music that you did?
Sophie: A Happy Seven does not feature a traditional musical soundtrack. Rather, it uniquely uses a variety of frequencies and layered sounds to represent the symptoms Nora experiences. The purpose of this film has always been to make the idea of life with fibro a bit more tangible for those who don’t suffer from it, so it was clear from the start that there would need to be something that audiences would clearly be able to associate with pain – otherwise it would never be clear what Nora was experiencing. As my sister likes to say, we can’t actually go around beating up our audience, so we had to find another route to express the experience of pain.
Melissa: What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film?
Sophie: The most important thing I’ve learned through making this film is that I can never be a perfect support for my sister. In the beginning stages of this film when I’d been researching fibro for a while, I realized that, even though I understood it more every day, I would never get to a point where I knew everything. That realization scared me. I felt that if I were claiming the right to make this film, then I had to completely understand fibromyalgia and I had to support my sister flawlessly. After grappling with the fear of failing that expectation, I realized that that was part of the heart of A Happy Seven. All we can ask of each other is to try our best to understand as well as we can and love accordingly. I will never perfectly understand the emotional burdens, I will continue to misinterpret much of the pain my sister experiences, I will inevitably add to her pain sometimes, but I can always learn how to love and support her better.
Melissa: What message do you want the audience to have after the film?
Sophie: After viewing A Happy Seven, my hope is that viewers with fibro would come away with the encouraging reminder that they’re not alone, and that there is hope that they can have people in their lives who can somewhat understand their struggles and be there for them. For those who don’t have fibro, I hope that they will come away with an increased empathy for those who suffer from fibro and other invisible illnesses and a distinct awareness of the need to be there for those people and be willing to truly listen and try their best to understand. If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t truly know, but everyone can understand more if they take the time to sit down and listen to their loved ones who battle fibro every day.
Melissa: What does a theatrical release entail for an independent film?
Sophie: Procuring a theatrical release is difficult for an independent film, but thankfully the Twin Cities are very supportive of the arts, and the Parkway Theater in particular is thrilled to be hosting an event for such an importance cause.
Melissa: Where will people be able to see the film after its debut?
Sophie: After its premiere at the Parkway Theater, A Happy Seven will be submitted to a number of film festivals around the world. In light of that, our ability to make it available to the public for free may be limited for a while for legal reasons, but we will do our best to make it available online and on DVD as soon as possible.
Melissa: When and where can people see A Happy Seven‘s debut?
Sophie: A Happy Seven is premiering at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis on May 12th, International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. We’re holding two screenings at 3:30 and 4:15, but doors open as early as 3:00. Both of these screenings are completely free and open to the public!
We ask that you reserve your seats online at happysevenfilm.eventbrite.com, but if that step slips through the cracks, don’t let it stop you from joining us!
Each screening will be followed by a question and answer session with the primary cast and crew, and an informational table hosted by members of the NFMCPA will be in the lobby to answer questions about how to become further involved in supporting the fibro community and raising awareness. A portion of the support will be donated to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association to aid in their invaluable work.
Directed By: Sophie Meath
Starring: Anna Stranz, Hannah Aslesen, Laura Ricci, Christy Kane, Sawyer Hathaway
Melissa Swanson is a chronic pain patient, advocate, and author. Through her Facebook page, she offers positive encouragement, medical information, resources, and support to 16,000+ fibromyalgia and chronic pain patients. In addition to her own blog, Melissa has been published in “Living Well with Fibromyalgia” and the NFMCPA “Advocate Voice.” She’s a graduate of the 2014 Class of Leaders Against Pain Scholarship Training sponsored by the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association and a member of the Leaders Against Pain Action Network.