Coming cold into The Don’t Tell Show‘s short film, Black Dog: A Raising Awareness of Raising Awareness, I walked away with mixed feelings. I’m not saying I’m spoiling the story, but there’s fun in not knowing certain behind-the-scenes facts. So I’ll warn you before I get to the spoiler.
Craig (Craig Hicks) is a film student at university working on his first documentary about depression and mental illness. His subject is Nicholas (Nicholas Adamson), a nomad living in his van who suffers from debilitating depression. Thinking that Nicholas would be the perfect subject to bring awareness to mental health issues, Craig has trouble getting Nicholas to be depressed and fall down the emotional pit of despair.
Realizing that he’s not getting the footage he wants, Craig presents footage of him and Nicholas bickering over camera setups and antagonizing one another with a little ball-busting. The most dramatic moments come when Nicholas actively resists Craig’s attempts to get him to explore the dark areas of his life, involving memories of a black dog. Unfortunately, time is running out for Craig as the project is late, and he’s made no headway with his subject.
Now, we enter spoiler territory. I didn’t realize until after seeing Black Dog: A Raising Awareness of Raising Awareness that this is a drama — not a documentary — directed by Nicholas Adamson. It’s not real, folks! Yep, I got duped.
“…Craig has trouble getting Nicholas to be depressed…”
When I watched the film, I was starting to get pissed off at “director” Craig about midway through. You can see his frustration that Nicholas wasn’t “showing off” his depression, prompting Craig to “jump-start” his condition with seemingly reasonable yet questionable methods. The main reason I was fooled was that the cast and crew play everything seriously. Craig’s tactics are subtle. It starts safe (for Nicholas), and like a frog in a kettle, the heat slowly turns up. Honestly, most of this review was going to be about the ethical responsibility filmmakers have toward their subjects… which is precisely what the film is about.
Much of the credit for the effectiveness of Black Dog: A Raising Awareness of Raising Awareness goes to Adamson’s performance. I suppose one luxury he afforded himself was not going fully depressed but just walking that edge, which is more interesting than showing the worst of one’s condition.
Accompanying the performance are the documentary techniques used to capture it. We’re given a little bit of a behind-the-scenes of documentary filmmaking, along with some gorgeous shots of Nicholas in the wide outdoors, i.e., the woods of a local park, illegally fishing along a stream, and a moment of kite flying across a soccer (football) field. It’s like poetry in a subversive setting.
Kudos to Nicholas Adamson and The Don’t Tell Show and what they accomplished with Black Dog: A Raising Awareness of Raising Awareness. You got me! In doing so, you made me radically reconsider what I just saw and forced me to dramatically change the way this review was written in the end, doubling my effort, dammit. Well done. I will get my revenge one day.
"…made me radically reconsider what I just saw..."