Electric Malady documentary – Forced to isolate, William lives like a ghost…

words Alexa Wang

Electric Malady film

Electric Malady is a film about William. Back in 2006 William was living a typical life with his girlfriend in Mora, Sweden. But when a new wireless system was installed in the library where he worked he became severely affected by an illness known as electrosensitivity.

Over a decade later William lives in an isolated cottage on the shores of Lake Hjälmaren. He was forced to isolate himself from society. The cottage has no electricity or running water. He sits alone shrouded in protective sheets and blankets stacked so densely he resembles a ghost.

The director of the film Marie Lidén recalled first meeting William.

“It was like meeting something from another world. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. His father had prepared me. He told me to imagine a ghost trapped in a cottage in the middle of the forest. I thought this was a metaphor but as I stood opposite this shy sheet-covered man I realised that his father’s description was quite literal. My first thought was that this couldn’t be real. He has a mental illness. It didn’t take long before William shattered these thoughts as I got to know this intelligent, funny and warm man who reminded me of so many of my friends. Standing next to his bed watching him and listening to him talking through heavy breathing was heart-breaking. How does a person end up like this?”

William’s dad was a senior manager at Volvo and his mum a nurse. When they visit William in the wilderness it is like stepping back in time. The water is hand pumped. They are his only link to the outside world and they bring him the food that keeps him alive.

Electric Malady is strange and sad tale but also one about love. It is inspiring in that the family ties have proven unbreakable. They love each other and that strength enables them to survive with humour and humility. Clips from family home movies give us a glimpse into his past life as well as allowing us to see his present state.

Electric Malady docu

The director Marie Lidén was drawn to making this film for a number of reasons. Her mum had the same condition and they had to move and abandon all electrical devices. But her mother liked to tell her stories. This stuck with Marie. Stories that, as she grew up she wanted to tell the world in the form of documentary film. Over to Marie:

“I have always been drawn to stories and fairy tales. My family got a VHS camera very early and my sister and I would make endless home videos and epic video diaries that we forced upon our reluctant parents.

When I was young, my mum became electrosensitive. This meant we had to remove most electric devices from our lives; no more Nintendo, no more TV or listening to music in the house. We swapped electric lights for candles and oil lamps. Telling stories became more important than ever. In the candlelight, Mum would construct the most incredible story worlds. I believe I have her to thank for my vivid imagination.

When I was 16 I got into a school focusing on film and photography and by the age of 19 I had decided I wanted to make documentaries. I wanted stories, different from the ones around me, so I set off for Edinburgh. I’ve spent periods living in Spain and Romania, always returning to my adopted home in Scotland. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be outside the norm, always drawn to situations that would push me towards exciting and unknown territories and perhaps it is this drive and the sensation of always being an outsider that has shaped the themes I am drawn towards in my work.

ELECTRIC MALADY is so important to me because of the voice I hope it will give to those suffering with electrosensitivity. In many cases these people’s stories are marginalised, because they cannot communicate the way we do through Internet or even using phones. I’m also very aware of the boundaries exposed within the film, the questions raised about the differences between mental and physical symptoms, how we apply rules of diagnosis. I am excited by issues that straddle definition, where mainstream society wants to draw neat lines between the conscious and un-conscious, the psychological and the physiological, the real experience of people can be much more complex. I believe we have to explore these boundaries and continually challenge them, to ensure we do give a voice to the marginalised.”

Electric Malady is out now in UK cinemas https://www.conic.film/films/electricmalady

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