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Through the Lens of Pain: Bonnie MacRae's Film Exposes the Truths of Endometriosis

All Up there - Behind The Scenes (Courtesy of Bonnie Macrae)

We're thrilled to present an exclusive interview with Bonnie Macrae, the talented Scottish writer and director behind the poignant short film, "All Up There." This remarkable creation, produced by an all-female/non-binary crew in Glasgow, offers an unflinching portrayal of living with endometriosis.

Premiering on Girls in Film and reaching prestigious venues like the Houses of Parliament, Bonnie's film has become a catalyst for awareness and positive change. Through our Q&A, Bonnie shares her motivations, the importance of diverse representation, and her aspirations for a future of improved education and support for those with endometriosis.

Watch "All Up There" here:

1. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your film, "All Up There," and what motivated you to explore the topic of endometriosis?

All Up There came from my personal dealings with Endometriosis, the perpetual GP and hospital appointments, each one similar to the last, letting me know they believed I was perfectly fine and in fact, it might just be all in my head. I felt like I was going insane, I struggled to comprehend just how little concern medical professionals had towards the pain that left me in the back of an ambulance every single month signalling the beginning of my period. Having undergone surgery and still not receiving the answers I knew would validate my pain - and my mind - I decided to write. I found it extremely difficult to explain to friends, employers, and doctors the ins and outs of the relentless, unpredictable condition that was pressing pause on my life, so wanted to convey it in the way I knew best - in the form of All Up There!

2. Endometriosis is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. How did you approach portraying the experiences of individuals with endometriosis in your film, and what message do you hope to convey to the audience?

Making the film for me was always about showing the condition in all the forms I’ve experienced it in. I think it’s really important to understand all sides of the condition, some days it’s ten times worse than others, maybe one month you’re hospitalised and the next you’re not. I wanted the film to represent how it feels to come of age with a chronic condition, the web of friends, family, work, and a social life, that slowly becomes entangled and messy. I think even some of my friends were shocked when they watched the film - in particular the very last 30 seconds. Unless you’ve seen Endometriosis in action with your own eyes, of course, you’re going to struggle to fully understand exactly how it can attack completely out of the blue. I want audiences to come away just a little bit more aware of invisible illness and the many strings it can pull. While I can only try my best to portray my own personal experience of the condition, I really hope we were able to represent the many different sides of Endometriosis and the effect it can have.

3. Your film addresses the issue of medical misogyny surrounding the fight for a diagnosis. Could you elaborate on this aspect and share some insights into the challenges faced by women with endometriosis in obtaining proper medical care?

When initially writing the film I really struggled to decide just how to portray the character of the GP. I was angry and frustrated in my own situation and felt this wave of injustice for all of the other women I knew going through similar fights, struggling to be believed by the very people meant to help them. I didn’t want to completely villainize the GP in the film as, of course, not every doctor sits in this category. I’m extremely grateful for the nurses and doctors who have believed me and tried their very best to advocate for my pain. Of course, medical professionals can only do their best with the time, money and resources offered to them, however having dealt with those who suggest I try open water swimming, looking up the definition of hypochondria or getting pregnant, there is still much-needed change. The GP character in the film developed into an almost caricature-like figure, heightened in a way that encompasses the multitude of medical professionals I’ve personally experienced.

I think it’s extremely distressing that women waiting to be officially diagnosed with the condition have to fight to be heard. The searing pain, blood, and time spent lying in the foetal position on the bathroom floor is exhausting enough without having to trek to the GP to advocate for yourself just one more time. Maybe this will be it. Maybe this time they’ll see that I’m telling the truth, that it is that bad.

Having experienced specialists unable to even pronounce or remember the name of the condition itself, I feel despondent most days thinking about just how far there is to go. The condition affects 1.5 million women of those assigned female at birth, a similar number to those affected by Diabetes. Endometriosis should be as common as any other word, not discovered by women on the internet anxiously, desperately Googling their symptoms and finding out they might just have this chronic illness that no doctor has ever thought to mention before.

4. "All Up There" was created with an all-female/non-binary crew. How did this collaborative approach impact the film's production process, and why was it important for you to have a diverse team working on this project?

I was really passionate about working with an all-female crew. There’s such an amazing community of women working in the industry in Scotland and it would be stupid not to make the most of that! We had a really tiny budget and only two days to film, everyone was so on board and motivated in working together to create what is now All Up There. I have absolutely no complaints about working with a mixed crew, but there was something so empowering in making a film on this subject matter in a room full of women. We actually have crew members who upon working on the film, only later realised they too had Endometriosis. I’m just really grateful to have been able to share this time and space with the crew, and so thankful to them for helping me get All Up There to where it is now. I really couldn’t have done it on my own.

5. Your film was recently screened in the Houses of Parliament, and you hosted a panel on endometriosis in association with Endometriosis UK. Can you tell us more about the reception and impact of your film within the political and advocacy spheres?

The Parliament screening was a total shock to me, when I got that email I really thought it was a joke. You make films for people to watch, it’s such a privilege to even have one person watch the film. So to then show the film at an event at Westminster, was really personally a big moment. From the back of an ambulance to the Houses of Parliament - it’s a long way and something I’m really proud of. I hosted the panel alongside Labour MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy who facilitated a really amazing discussion on Endometriosis alongside Endometriosis UK. The event was attended by musicians, authors, charity CEOs, volunteers, filmmakers, and politicians all sharing the same goal in bringing real needed change to Endometriosis care and support in the UK. I never made the film for it to reach the political or advocacy spheres, more so, for myself and those close to me who struggled to fully understand the illness in its entirety. To be standing up in Parliament leading a discussion on just what we need to do to improve the current state of Endo care, I could never have imagined myself doing it a few months prior. Honestly, there is a very long way to go in terms of progress - according to Endometriosis UK, 54% of people still don’t even know what the condition is. Education is imperative on both sides, young women need to know of Endometriosis long before I ever learned of the word, and medical professionals need the tools and financial support to dedicate more time to the research and patient care that sadly is so lacking at the minute.

(Courtesy of Bonnie Macrae)

6. What is great about the film is that it shows the social impact of the disease and how isolating it can be from friends and partners. Why did you think it was important to include this element and not just focus on physical or medical symptoms?

Endometriosis is not just a physical disease, it’s most definitely mental too and so much of that impacts your friends, your work, and your social life - especially when you’re only just trying to get to grips with adult life itself. On average it takes 8 years to reach a diagnosis in the UK, and for so many that time will leave you feeling stuck whilst those around you continue living their lives at a ‘normal’ pace. The condition sadly dictates where you go, what you wear, what you do for work. It holds an unfair influence over the day-to-day things most don’t even think twice about. I really wanted to show that in the film as it’s so easy to forget that behind the physical pain we can see, there’s so much left waiting to be dealt with underneath.

7. What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of endometriosis awareness and advocacy, and how do you see your film playing a role in driving positive change?

It’s really a privilege to hear that the film could play a role in driving change, as I said, that was never even in my head as a possibility when initially sitting down to write. There’s such a long way to go, and that can feel really disheartening and overwhelming. What has really motivated me is the response to the film, those attending the events and screenings, and those who can see themselves represented on screen. That really means a lot and I’m so grateful for the Endometriosis community I’ve found myself in following the release of the film!

Sufferers shouldn’t have to advocate for themselves in the way that they are currently, it’s not right and shouldn’t have to happen. I think starting with very basic goals is one way to drive eventual positive change. We should all have an understanding of Endometriosis, and importantly, how to pronounce it (end-oh-mee-tree-oh-sis!) No one expects you to have knowledge of a condition you have little relation to, but with 1.5 million (that we know of) in the UK currently living with it, it’s more than probable that you know someone who knows someone who has it. Employers need to understand and acknowledge Endometriosis’ severity and young women must know that period pain should never ever leave you unable to live your life, to undertake the most normal of tasks. That’s not normal and you need to make people listen. I hope one day for a time when no woman has to fight against those who fail to believe her pain, but for now, baby steps. Positive change around Endometriosis is possible and the process of making All Up There from writing to attending Parliament has left me heartened by the community ready to make the world listen.

Reflecting on the profound impact of "All Up There," a member of our team at The Female Lead shared their personal experience, stating:

Watching 'All Up There' was like viewing my own personal experience from an outsider's perspective (including being asked by one doctor if my symptoms were 'psychosomatic'). What I loved most, is that the film doesn't attempt to dramatise or exaggerate what living with endometriosis is like, it accurately portrays the true nature of this disease and its effects on young women like me.

I actually got quite emotional watching it, as being really seen and represented is so rare. Having endo can feel isolating, so seeing the lead character struggle with what I struggle with made me feel less alone. The next time someone asks me what having endometriosis is like, I will show them this film.

About the contributor:

"I'm Bonnie. I write and direct. I make films surrounding youth culture and current social issues. I really care about mental health advocacy and am always looking for new ways to tell stories that strive to give voice to those deriving from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds."

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