REVIEW: "I Remember Me" Offers Plea, Document and Solace
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/ 11.08.01) — If you think anthrax, small pox and the certainty that there’ll be a “Rush Hour 3” is bad, imagine having an ailment that the medical profession says is imaginary. What’s worse is you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of aching, enervated souls are hobbling across the landscape with you like the unloved undead in George Romero films.
This is the position Kim A. Snyder found herself in. A graduate of the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a U.S. producer’s rep for the Polish film “Crows,” and associate producer of the lovely Oscar-winning short “Trevor,” Snyder didn’t start falling apart until she commenced working with Jodie Foster on that Thanksgiving turkey, “Home For the Holidays“. (Box office turkey that is. I relished the film, especially Robert Downey Jr. in his pre-Betty Ford mode.)
No, don’t start attacking Jodie; it wasn’t her fault. Snyder had come down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
So what is CFS? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site for the affliction, a “patient must satisfy two criteria: 1. Have severe chronic fatigue of six months or longer duration with other known medical conditions excluded by clinical diagnosis, and 2. Concurrently have four or more of the following symptoms: substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration, tender lymph nodes, muscle pain, multi-joint pain without swelling or redness, headaches of a new type, pattern or severity, unrefreshing sleep, and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours.
Sounds like what my last five dates came down with mid-foreplay.
Anyway, what does someone who’s a filmmaker falling apart while in extreme pain and mental anguish do? She starts making a movie, and quite a fine film Snyder has concocted from her misery.
This by the way is the first feature on CFS. There are numerous books such as “50 Things You Should Know About the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the Modern Woman,” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” but no features.
Through interviews with herself, director Blake Edwards (a sufferer for over 15 years), World Cup soccer star Michelle Akers, disabled high school student Stephen Paganetti (he can’t even sit up), and dozens of normal citizens who are surviving or have survived CFS (only 4 to 12% make full recoveries), Snyder engenders a complete picture of the physical hell the afflicted go through.
But it’s the psychological torment that’s so fascinating and disquieting here. Imagine displaying symptoms that every doctor has a different diagnosis for. Picture yourself wasting away, unable to lift your head off your pillow for months, while certain members of the AMA are insisting you’re just being hysterical. You should be committed. You should stop playing games.
Snyder includes interviews with certain authorities that still take that stance. But she’s also found dozens of experts who insist otherwise. She’s additionally traveled to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where between 1984 and 1986 over 300 people became acutely ill with a flu-like illness that was eventually named CFS.
But this was not the first outbreak. Snyder unearths evidence of mass complaints of similar symptoms in Punta Gorda, Florida (1956), Iceland (1949) and in Los Angeles (1934). (The flare-up didn’t stop “It Happened One Night” from sweeping away its Oscar competitors that year and Shirley Temple from tapping home with an honorary statuette.)
One other matter helping to add emotional strife to CFS-sufferers is the name of their disease. Many interviewees feel “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” just doesn’t sound serious. It’s like calling cancer the “Big Bad Cell” or polio “Well, He Can’t Breathe on his Own Now.” Serious committees have actually formed since this film was completed to rename CFS. The monikers in the running include “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis,” “Neuroendocrine Immune Disorder,” “Polyalgic Asthenia,” and “Ramsay’s Disorder” after the British medical researcher.
CFS, even if you call it Charles Nelson Reilly, is an awful, debilitating infirmity that according to director Edwards often makes you feel “you’re alone in your agony.” “You also forget your former self,” Snyder notes, when you could run and cook and work and love freely.
“I Remember Me,” accordingly, serves as a powerful document, plea, and solace for those suffering from CFS, their family members and friends. It should also inform doctors and hopefully raise lots of money for further research.
As a documentary shot in 16mm and VHS, it was First Runner Up for an Audience Award at the 2001 Sarasota Film Festival and earned an Honorable Mention Golden Starfish Documentary Award at the 2000 Hamptons Film Festival. Solidly shot by Sam Counter, Lee Daniel, and Don Lenzer, and wisely edited by Paula Heredia, Snyder’s high-grade effort will also interest and astound those who have no connection to CFS. And that adds to its true merits.