Filmmaker Caroline Sharp provides much-needed education about epilepsy in her documentary Sisters Interrupted. It is an eye-opening, at times beautiful and painful film that ensures the condition comes out of the shadows into the public’s awareness.
Sisters Chelsea and Tamsin battle with epilepsy and fight for a treatment that could save their lives. Tamsin often suffers 70 seizures a day and is resistant to every medication; her time is running out. Filmed over three years, this is a defining story of bravery and love.
Such is the care and attention provided within Caroline Sharps Sisters Interrupted that she introduces the film stating that it will use flashing lights and that it will also give warnings in the form of audio and visual methods to let the audience know ahead of time. This is done to demonstrate the feelings of those of us who live with epilepsy and how they have to remain vigilant and to show how constantly interrupted their world is.
Sisters Interrupted highlights a condition that many take for granted; when you think of epilepsy, you think of flashing bright lights that are the reason for the reaction, something that can generally be avoided. However, right away, we see how a simple car journey on a lovely sunny day can be disastrous for someone like Tamsin. We see the sun breaking through the gaps in the trees and think how lovely it is. Yet, in this situation, Tamsin is significantly affected, and Chelsea must ensure her safety with the help of sunglasses.
Again, as someone with only a basic knowledge of epilepsy, this becomes an absorbing watch. We learn how Tamsin had temporal lobe epilepsy from birth, but after her tenth birthday her brain development dramatically slowed causing her condition to become far more severe. Even with Chelsea, it came even later into her life as she was sitting her GCSEs, small jerks in her hands and body in the mornings would be disregarded by her GP as tiredness until her mother pushed the situation, which obviously came from their experience with Tamsin.
Purposefully, we are shown recordings of Tamsin during and just after her seizures; we see the pain and the confusion run through her as she and those around her attempt to get her into a more comfortable position. We gaze around her room and see lovely pictures and photos, yet tucked to the side is an oxygen tank, just there, waiting for the inevitable seizure. It wrenches at your heart to see such a lovely, happy person be put through this. While Chelsea can lead a normal enough life, the medication she was on and what Tamsin has to take opens up a whole new kettle of fish for us to explore.
Learning how different medications can perhaps subdue some symptoms but then cause havoc on the body and the minds of the girls is hard to take. Knowing that there are such damaging side effects and the dismissive nature of medical practitioners to the use of medical cannabis for adult patients in the UK immediately gets your back up in frustration. We all know eventually, the UK will fall in line with countries like the US and Canada, but will that be in time to save Tamsin from any further pain? It is here where the documentary could venture into a far longer form, but Sharp, rather wisely, pulls back from that; this is the two sisters’ story, and we need to stay with them.
We broach upon the reasoning behind the Government’s hesitancy to prescribe medical cannabis to patients due to utter needless bureaucracy. Tamsin’s neurologist, in this case, is holding her back for some unknown ethical reasons. When Chelsea hears that she and her sister have an identical mutated enzyme that relates to their temporal lobe epilepsy and that if Tamsin was also getting the same type of treatment, her quality of life would vastly improve. It almost comes as a hammer blow to Chelsea and the audience; this possibility of something unique for her sister is a signature away, yet still unattainable.
What Chelsea, in her conversations, conveys so well is how rife with fear people who have epilepsy are at all times. Be it worrying when a seizure may present itself and how that will look to others around them. A real fear that one seizure that would cause something like a bladder release will alter a friendship or relationship forever is very, very real.
Sisters Interrupted gives you so much to ponder over in its surprisingly short runtime. However, Caroline Sharp packs so much information into her film that you can’t help but become more aware. Honest and urgent, this is a film you need to see.
Sisters Interrupted will be playing at the Raindance Film Festival on Wednesday 1st November 2023, for more information about the showing click here
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