EXCLUSIVE: Unrest, a movie about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as ME) which debuted at Sundance this year, is using an unconventional distribution method to make sure that it is seen by one of its target audiences: homebound sufferers of the disease.

Jason Frank Rothenberg

The film is opening in Los Angeles and San Francisco today theatrically, however, for those affected by ME who might not be able to attend a theatrical screening, the filmmaker Jennifer Brea and her film team have come up with an innovative idea with accessibility as their main priority for their distribution strategy. And this is something that Brea can relate to as she suffers from ME and actually made the film while largely being bed bound while working with a team of producers.

Those who are homebound can watch the film livestream Audience members who would have otherwise been excluded from theatrical experiences can watch the film, virtually participate in Q&As and panel discussions, and share their reactions to the film.

The virtual screenings, which are limited ticket events that run concurrently with select screenings where the film is running theatrically, are hosted by the filmmakers through a digital platform called OVEE created by ITVS. Attendees must live within 100 miles of the theatrical area. Virtual screening participants can post their reactions and comments in a shared screening experience with others watching from home.

At some screenings, after watching the film audience members are invited to participate in a virtual Q&A; at others, they continue the conversation in a video chat room that can accommodate up to 100 participants. These are often intimate conversations between a dozen or so patients, many of whom may have never seen or spoken to other patients before.

“While I was making Unrest, I connected online with countless others who have this disease, and there were times when, by connecting and coming together virtually, we quite literally saved each other’s lives. It was crucial to me to give them and their caregivers access to watch the film as soon as possible, even if they could not leave their beds or their homes,” said Brea. “Our creative distribution strategy is global, ambitious, and accessible by design. It hasn’t been the path of least resistance in this industry, but we’ve found ways to emphasize inclusivity. We want our audiences to feel connected by this film. The weaving together of our theatrical, digital, broadcast, and social impact campaign strategies is something we hope can be a model for future documentaries.”

The filmmakers’ distribution partners, including the Sundance Institute Creative Distribution Fellowship and PBS Independent Lens, and theaters, have been supportive in this innovative approach to audience engagement.