The film is incredibly moving and could encourage others to start a dialogue with loved ones who are vulnerable.
The new short doc Imogen is a raw narrative that tackles grief and the importance of prioritising mental health as the world continues to work on creating more awareness towards mental health.
Imogen was originally due to have her world premiere in competition at Oscar Qualifying AMDOCS 2020 in March, as part of the official selection. Due to COVID-19 plans have changed, but the film’s message has become even more necessary.
A family grieves celebrates and reflects on their daughter’s life, whose mental health challenges changed the course of her life and everyone around her. Crafted from two decades of journals, sketchbooks and music she left behind, with family members and actors appearing together, seamlessly blending reality and performance of self.
Supported by Lush Film Fund & the BFI/Doc Society Fund, filmmakers join a family who posthumously try to understand a chaotic mind, with the aim to expand our own understanding of what it’s like to live in a state of mental confusion.
Producers Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach, LoveTrue, Honey Boy) and Margo Mars (JellyWolf) bring to life the debut of writer, director Lola Young and documentary maker Matt Shea (Time to Die, Gaycation with Ellen Page).
Imogen deals openly with subjects such as depression, eating disorders, self-harm, self- medication and the constant struggle to answer to oneself: “What is wrong with me?”
The film follows Imogen’s mother Diane and sister Allegra as they discover Imogen’s inner-most thoughts through reading her notebooks, examining her illustrations and listening to the music she left behind. As they go through these artefacts, Imogen’s mind comes to life: she becomes a third character with whom her family reimagines crucial life moments in order to better understand her.
These recreated memories, in which real-life mother and real-life sister appear alongside the actress (a brave performance by upcoming talent Jessamine-Bliss Bell) blend performance, documentary, and the real-time processing of grief. When fusing reality and fiction in this way, first takes are used, creating raw and authentic spontaneous moments.
The powerful short is already proving a powerful platform to spark conversation - the trailer saw viewing figures of 6,000+ on the first day, and so far hundreds have RSVP’d to join the film’s conversations.
The original soundtrack
Music was Imogen's vital source of joy; it fed her soul and pushed her to keep living. She called herself “the new verb” and was ambitious and uniquely talented. She adamantly instructed that all of her memory cards, demos and recordings were sent to her mother Diane. Much of this was recorded in secret and has not been heard before. These lyrics, in which she pours out her heart, hold the key to understanding who she was. Her sound is achingly vulnerable, fiery yet tender and layered with sharp lyricism, which helps drive the film’s narrative.
The beautiful original soundtrack has become a posthumous collaboration between Imogen Goldie-Wells and the film’s composer, Charlotte Hatherley (Bat For Lashes, Birdy, KT Tunstall, Nakhane). It has been released on all major streaming platforms. Charlotte comments:
It was important that the soundtrack felt like a collaboration between Imogen and I. I love her raw and honest songs with all the hiss and crackle that comes with home recording. Though my score is deliberately distinct in style, it’s derived from a melodic motif in Imogen’s song Stem Cells, ensuring our music is intrinsically linked.
Alongside Imogen’s music the film reveals drawings and often painfully honest passages from her diaries; within them, there is hope, beauty and destruction, which I tried to express in the music.
Audrey Riley’s beautiful cello playing elevates the more delicate and heart-rending passages, whilst unsettling electronic sounds and modular synth generated drones take over to reflect Imogen’s desperate mental state. As someone who suffered mental health issues, Imogen was prone to sensory overload which the music had to echo.
Imogen speaks to a distinctive core audience, in particular to those who may have personally struggled with their own mental health, as well as parents, children, friends, family members, charities and educators who may identify with Imogen’s story.
The goal of the film is to reach as large an audience as possible to create the biggest impact - from those interested in films on important subjects of mental health in young people to those who connect with its universal themes of adulthood and identity - as well as anyone interested in artfully crafted films with novel approaches.
Suicide is a difficult yet universal subject-matter that is often shown through the same inhuman statistics, reports, newspaper articles, or campaign films that are difficult for the public to truly engage with on a personal level. By meeting Imogen and entering the powerful world of her personal notebooks manifested in this film, we intend to gain a truly human understanding of what life may be like for the many people living with mental health conditions.
Imogen gives screen time, agency and a voice to an underrepresented group that is too often hidden behind the stigma of mental health. The commitment in the filmmaking process was to work closely with Imogen's family has not only been a form of creative catharsis and empowerment to them personally but also brings the subject matter of suicide and mental health far closer to the hearts and minds of the audience. In doing so, we hope to create a shared empathy and understanding. We hope this film will also be used as a tool for mental health professionals and charities.
About the filmmakers
Lola Young, director, writer
British born writer, director, Lola Young is a new generation talent. Fierce and feminine, she explores her voice through sharp, intimate film work. With exquisite sensitivity to emotion, she artfully observes individuals and relationships. This directing debut from Lola Young proves her to be an exciting new talent to watch.
Matt Shea, director
Coming from a background of journalism and writing, Matt has worked as a director and producer at Vice for three years, where he has produced numerous documentaries and has developed and created TV series such as the Emmy-nominated Gaycation with Ellen Page and the Grierson-nominated feature documentary Chemsex. He recently finished directing Time to Die, about the global underground euthanasia movement.
Alma Har’el, producer
Most famous for her award-winning films Bombay Beach, LoveTrue and Honey Boy, director, screenwriter, producer Har’el creates work that plunges deep into the heart of imagination. Her debut scripted feature Honey Boy starring long-time collaborator Shia LaBeouf premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, receiving the Special Jury Award for Vision & Craft. Her documentary Bombay Beach took top prize at Tribeca Film Festival in 2011, was nominated for the Indie Spirit awards, and has been taught in several universities, including Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab and NYU, as a genre-redefining work.
Har’el is the first woman ever to have been nominated for the prestigious DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in two categories: Best Commercial Director (P&G 2018) and First Time Feature Film (Honey Boy 2020), the latter she went on to win. Alongside her directing career, Har’el is the founder of historic worldwide non-profit movement Free the Work.
Margo Mars, producer
Margo Mars is the Dutch founder of Lief, a London based creative content studio and has a proven track record for cultivating innovative and imaginative approaches to working, nurturing the careers of its exceptional and uniquely diverse filmmakers. As a partner of Free the Work, Mars promotes and celebrates inclusivity creating new culture-defining work with underrepresented voices of filmmaking today.
Mars' body of work has won numerous awards, including D&AD, British Arrows, Campaign, VMA, and Tribeca X, as well as the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions. Her films have been funded by Tribeca Studios, The BFI/Doc Society, The Guardian and Lush Film Fund.
After virtual screenings during May Mental Health Awareness month, producers are working on doing more of these important conversations this summer.
If you are touched by the subject and want to be involved, you can reach out to them on Twitter and Instagram. Imogen will have her world premiere at Oscar Qualifying festival AMDOCS September 25-29 in Palm Springs.