Recent Comments

    New Film About Mental Illness Draws from Gay Filmmaker’s Real-Life Experiences

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Directed and co-written by the openly gay Vincent Sabella, Elizabeth Blue, opening September 22 at the Roxie Theatre, is based on the filmmaker’s personal experiences with schizophrenia. In this heartfelt and compelling film, the titular character (Anna Schafer) leaves a treatment facility and moves in with her fiancée Grant (Ryan Vincent). She also sees Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a psychiatrist who tries to help her adjust her medication and get “back to normal.”

    The filmmaker and his husband, Joseph Dain, who produced the film, talked (in separate interviews) with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about their experiences making Elizabeth Blue.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about how you developed the story from your experiences?

    Vincent Sabella: All these characters are real. Dr. Bowman is my real Dr. Bowman and he consulted on the film. Elizabeth is myself and Grant is my husband Joseph. I based this script on a year, 2010, when all my medications hit a plateau and I was having schizophrenic episodes every day. Joe was taking me to see my psychiatrist every day because he couldn’t handle me. I either had to go to a psychiatric hospital or Joe would have to take a year off work to find the right regimen of meds to get me back to normal. Carol is loosely based on my mother. All the characters are real people in my life, so it wasn’t a stretch to write this.

    Gary M. Kramer: I imagine making the film triggered some strong emotions. Were there any episodes on the set?

    Joseph Dain: Making the film brought up some things, and Vin hit some bumps along the way, but we made it a point to tell the cast and crew that there will possibly be some days where Vin will have an episode and leave the set. In those cases, I would step in and complete directing the scene. That happened twice, but the cast and crew rallied behind us and were supportive.

    Gary M. Kramer: Elizabeth wants to “have a life and be normal.” Can you talk about this and how you created the episodes that define her life in the film?

    Vincent Sabella: When I began writing the script, I knew I would base it on that year, but I didn’t remember everything that happened. Joe tells me I was running around at night. He videotaped me, so I forgot I had a hallucination of a train. It was a choice that I move fast in recovery and work on getting better. I always wanted to just be like everyone else and not be a victim of mental illness. I have it and embrace it and tell everyone about it, but I don’t want it to be a stigma.

    Gary M. Kramer: Joe, the character of Grant is a thinly veiled version of you. Can you talk about how you worked with actor Ryan Vincent on the character?

    Joseph Dain: Ryan was intrigued by this concept that Grant loved Elizabeth, no matter what her mental health or state of mind was. Ryan engaged with my deep affection and love for Vin, but also my ability to grapple with something that is difficult for many people. I wanted Ryan to understand that his character, while he’s human, he’s fearless. What motivates him the most is his love for her, and that surmounts any bad times. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult for me, but I came to accept Vin’s mental health as a part of who he is. There’s a message for people at large that love conquers all, and while that’s a slogan for many, those who have dealt with any major illness know our ability and capacity to love is incredible.

    Gary M. Kramer: Even though the film is based on your lives, Elizabeth Blue is about a heterosexual couple. Can you discuss that decision?

    Vincent Sabella: It wasn’t so much that the main character was straight or gay, it was more about it being a love story and schizophrenia. I thought more people, gay or straight, would relate to the film if it were a young woman. It’s about love and finding love, and the ability to get past your demons and what you are going through, and I wanted to show that people with mental illness are all normal; our brains just think a little differently. When people ask me about having mental illness, I say it’s a blessing in disguise. It makes me think and feel differently. It’s odd to say that, but it’s just how I feel.

    Joseph Dain: Vin made it a heterosexual couple because not as many people would see this if it was about a gay couple. That’s an unfortunate truth about the industry. It wasn’t about us; it was about tackling this serious mental health issue.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer