Here on Short of the Week we’re constantly discussing the motivations behind making a short film. Some make short films as a proof-of-concept because they’re looking to develop a larger project, others want to use the format as a stepping stone to directing features or TV, whilst many just find it the only way to tell a particular story. For today’s featured director, Nate Milton, the incentive behind creating 11-minute semi-autobiographical short Eli was much more personal, it comes from a place of self-therapy, a way of focusing the “dark energy” that’s produced as part of his mental health condition.
“It was during the act of getting my soul back into my body that this film is realized”
“Three years ago I lost my mind during a manic episode and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder”, Milton reveals in a frank conversation about the inspiration behind his film. “Many of my closest friends and family members helped me through that trauma in a practical way. However, it was during the act of getting my soul back into my body that this film is realized.”
Created as a way to capture his own personal narrative, although Milton describes Eli as a work of science fiction, he also admits that so much is based on his own experiences, the film feels autobiographical in many ways. From having a benign cyst removed from his ear in 8th grade, growing up close to a site featuring magnetic rock and using creative arts to to find some kind of harmony between mind and body, the filmmaker’s own narrative path shares a lot in common with that of his titular protagonist.
With the film providing a cathartic release for its creator, Milton also hopes Eli serves as a reminder that people with mental health conditions shouldn’t be written off as “weird or nuts” and instead he hopes it will help people understand and empathise more. “I made this film for my 15 year old self”, he explains. “I want to get the conversation started earlier about mental illness, especially with high school kids. I got diagnosed at 30, if I had answers at 17, it would have been very helpful”.
A personal, experimental film, Eli certainly won’t be for everyone’s tastes. Narratively, Milton’s film is a bit like a jigsaw that needs piecing together – one that you don’t have a picture for…and might have some pieces missing, but there’s a magical, enigmatic feel to it that makes it such a distinct, special experience. We pride ourselves here at S/W for our “narrative-first” curation and I admit to being a little indecisive when it came to selecting Eli – does it work narratively? Is it too frustrating? Ultimately though, the sheer ambition of storytelling in this short won me over. It just felt too original to ignore.
We have an unwritten rule in our selection process (I guess it’s a written rule now!) – the story behind a film doesn’t make the film. This means that we don’t judge films based on any hardships or overcome obstacles faced in the creation of the piece, we judge them all equally, on their story, their craft and their originality. I didn’t know the story behind Eli when accepting it for S/W, but now I do, I’m even more content with that decision.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Nate! I hope that creating this film has helped install a little peace and harmony in your life and I hope by sharing it, we help start those discussions around mental illness you’re eager to encourage.