"Will you come film Mary's seizures?" My Aunt asked me in November of 2018. I had met Mary, my newest cousin, only once over Thanksgiving the year prior. At that point she had been home a little under two months and I got the full experience; Mary constantly seized over and over throughout the day. To watch such a vibrant six year old go from playing with blocks, to falling over in a tonic clonic seizure, to returning to playing again within a matter of seconds as if nothing had happened. To seeing the bruises and scrapes littered on her body from her constant falls. It was scary, disturbing, unsettling, I felt helpless. I immediately understood why she had to wear a helmet, why an adult had to be near her at all times. But within hours she had my extended family absolutely smitten, myself included. We immediately embraced her as family.
I didn't film with Mary in 2018. I wasn't ready to tell her story, either emotionally or on a logistical level. I couldn't answer the 'how.' How was I going to encompass her life, her experience through video when she couldn't verbalize it for me? How do I represent her seizures, where is the line between necessary information and too graphic? How do I include myself in the narrative, this being an incredibly personal story, to what degree do I separate myself? Also, how do I get the equipment I want to make this! I had so many questions for myself as a filmmaker that I yet didn't have answers for.
I keep in touch with my Aunt Julie through her blog. Mary is the sixth member of the Nalle family, with four older brothers. The two brothers preceding her are Aaron and John, also adopted from the same Eastern European country. The oldest two are Ben and Elijah, both in their twenties. Alongside my Uncle Rob, my Aunt writes and markets a K-12 Classical History Curriculum for home schoolers. They have a lot going on at any given time, between their business and three children with disabilities. Especially with Mary, whose demands require their full attention 24/7 lest she goes into 'status' where she seizes non-stop for 5-20 minutes. And on a good day, that happens only twice; the really bad days often involve a trip to the hospital.
I agreed to come film with Mary the day after Thanksgiving of 2019. I rented my camera package; an Arri Alexa Mini with an Angenieux Optimo Style 30-76mm lens. Leading up to the night before I left, I had little to no idea how the filming was going to go. Usually I can come into a shoot with general intent, with this I felt like I was going in blind. I had already spent hours going through my Aunt's blog reading her words about Mary, looking at photos, mulling over their situation and trying to find inspiration. And then I found it, a post titled "Mary Mary...." the first sentence started with "Mary Mary, Quite Contrary." It read like a poem, a poem written by Julie to Mary. A mother to a daughter.
The blogpost turned into the narration, which then became the backbone of the project. Filming with Mary was seamless and comfortable, she was largely unphased with a massive camera pointing at her all day! The edit came together quickly, everything fit together piece by piece until I eventually had a complete puzzle. The result is what you see as the final product. This was a total labor of love, to tell Mary's incredible story and to share her resilient nature with others. I hope that through this project, you can see at least some semblance of what I see in Mary, what we all see. It's nothing but love. Because wow y'all, she's incredible.
Cinematicfaves.com wrote a review of the film in August 2021.
"There is often a struggle when capturing something as intimate as a family's life within the home, especially when the subject is a child. Though we do not hear directly from Mary, we see her through the eyes of those who love her. We do long to know more of what's inside Mary's mind as she navigates the day, and although the film has a short run time, there's scope to explore this further.
Mary, Quite Contrary adopts a warm quality that feels like a home video. Although it's as sleek as a commercial, it captures a family's heart and could easily extend to a longer film that allows people to get to know what life is like for the Nalles. Arnold's storytelling is rhythmic, and it would be exciting to see what that looks like through the filmmaker's lens."