With Short Film Revelations, David Allain Shines a Light on the Grief Journey and Raises Much-Needed Awareness for Mental Health Charities
We spoke to David Allain on the release of Revelations about raising awareness around mental health, making art from grief, and the power of letting go.
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
"I saw that through me opening up, others felt empowered to also be vulnerable, and with this I realised that the film had the potential to help others on their own journeys."
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
13 May 2022
In David Allain’s Revelations, a cinematic short film about family, grief, and acceptance, a young man, Drew, attends the funeral of his estranged mother and remembers a few moments that defined their relationship. Despite years of pain, Drew decides to see if his family’s differences can be reconciled before time runs out.
Written and directed by British scriptwriter and director David Allain, Revelations stars Joshua Riley, Wil Johnson (also seen in House of the Dragon), Kola Bokinni (seen in Ted Lasso) and Lola Mae Loughran (seen in In From the Cold). Revelations is the most personal project to date for Allain, whose award-winning work includes advertising and shorts for clients such as the BBC and CNN. The director also regularly works with charities including charity CALM, which raises mental health awareness, and SHELTER, the organisation tackling homelessness.
Revelations was inspired by true events and Allain’s relationship with his late mother, and won the Directors UK x ARRI Challenge Alexa, a competition that supports emerging British directors.
The film explores several themes linked to this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, loneliness, and serves as a great platform to explore family ties and community, and their impact on the adults we become. We spoke to David Allain on the release of Revelations about raising awareness around mental health, making art from grief, and the power of letting go.
Why was it so important to make this film?
Revelations came about through a competition run by Directors UK and ARRI; in late 2019, I applied to make a fictional scene very loosely inspired by some personal experiences. The competition judges encouraged me to try and tell a more personal story that drew more heavily on my past. Through making the film, it became layered with greater meaning: as we built our team and made Revelations, across 2 years following repeated delays due to the pandemic, I saw that it had the power to start important conversations and help people at a crucial point in their lives. What started as me exploring some of my grief soon became a vehicle for others to progress their own grief journeys too.
What was the main inspiration behind it?
The film closely reflects my own life story: I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness but left the sect as a teenager. A couple of years later, my parents gave me an ultimatum: return to their religion or they would stop talking to me. Fundamentally, I could not live my life practicing anything that forbids homosexuality and renounces gender equality, among other things. Much later, I heard from my parents for the first time in years: my mother was terminally ill. Time to reconcile our differences was running out. It is impossible to fit 15 years into 15 minutes, but the film is inspired by my experiences of family estrangement, grief, and my journey towards finding acceptance.
What would you say is the biggest takeaway in Revelations?
Vulnerability begets vulnerability. For years, I was ashamed of how my parents had treated me and kept it secret for a long time. Later, I knew I’d made the right choices and started to talk about it. People encouraged me to tell my story and shared their own experiences about family, religion or grief. They are such universal and timeless things, it is unsurprising that nearly everyone has something to share on those topics. And as I started to make the film, strangers opened up to me with the most personal stories, crying and sharing feelings about unresolved grief or family fallouts. I saw that through me opening up, others felt empowered to also be vulnerable, and with this I realised that the film had the potential to help others on their own journeys.
Why did you choose to explore the themes of grief and mental health?
I often write stories that explore things that I am experiencing - it helps me make sense of life and what I’m feeling. My mother had died the year before I pitched the idea. I’d already written something that explored ideas around grief at a more superficial level and wanted to go deeper this time: I didn’t anticipate how deep this project would go, but am very glad for where it went.
Is there anything you’ve learned about your own mental health while filming?
We started making Revelations pre-COVID. I think everyone’s learned a thing or two about their mental health in recent years. I lost a mentor in 2020, that hit me hard. And it inspired me to try to use the film to raise awareness of two mental health charities: I’m a big believer in turning negatives into positives. So, I decided to support CALM, who I’d worked with in the past and works to prevent male suicide, and The Good Grief Trust, who helps people connect with support specific to their type of bereavement. The film highlights that letting go is a big part of real acceptance: COVID reminded me that so many things are out of our control and beyond our ability to predict. Clinging on to old ideas and refusing to accept people or things as they are will only hold us back: letting go of expectations can be liberating. I’m constantly striving toward one goal or another but, in making Revelations, some of the best things came about when I was forced to pause. While waiting for the right time to shoot, after two postponed attempts, I had the idea to support the charities and thereby use the film to help other people, and in this period I also connected with a platform, Niche on Demand, who eventually became the film’s main funders. I’m very resilient, I’ve endured a lot, but despite it being difficult to practice sometimes, I’ve seen great value in patience: slowing down, reflecting, and returning to a task with better strategies can often really increase your chance of success. I think that approach can be applied to many aspects of life, including one’s relationship with their mental health.
What do you wish society changed when it comes to mental health and grief?
A lot of resources are currently invested in treating symptoms and healing wounds; this is useful, but not nearly enough effort is invested in preventing unnecessary damage from happening in the first place. Everyone knows it’s good to talk. Everyone knows that material possessions do not bring lasting happiness. Everyone knows that there is more than enough food and money in the world for everyone to live. And yet, we have declining mental health, increased wealth inequality, and growing poverty in the richest countries. What we know is not being met with genuine action. I wish society would change its priorities. Invest more in educating everyone to be critical thinkers and effective citizens; internalise the societal value of truth and accountability; stop being shortsighted by choosing greed and personal comfort over the planet; and help people outside of your tribe - people who do not look like you or who have not come from a similar background. We have the tools and resources to create a much fairer society, but lack leaders with enough vision or foresight to see the long-term value of empowering people so they can sustainably contribute to society and thereby feel a greater sense of worth, purpose, and community - things which underpin many people’s struggle with their mental health.
Is there anything else you would like people to know, especially during Mental Health Awareness Week?
Things are constantly changing, so it can often be hard to hear ourselves think or to know what we really feel. Whether through journaling or conversation or meditation, try to find a way of carving out some time and space to hear what your heart really feels about your life, your work, your relationships, and your actions. We all have immense potential and can do so much that could bring value to other people’s lives. Embrace change, let go of the things you can’t control, accept that everyone’s path is unique, reconnect with your inner child, and pursue things that can bring you lasting happiness.
For more information on Revelations, visit www.revelationsfilm.com