The National | 15 July 2020
A MOVING documentary by a Scots film-maker about a man who can’t stop telling jokes as a result of brain injury has had an “overwhelming” response after it aired on television on Monday night.
With music by Francis Macdonald of Teenage Fanclub and Withered Hand, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore has touched a chord with viewers around the country who have inundated award-winning documentary maker Hannah Currie with messages about how much it meant to them.
Currie hopes it will have a long-term future educating people about the devastating effect of brain injuries and the toll they take on families.
It also raises the issue of the burden the state places on carers, with people often expected to look after their loved ones as well as holding down full-time jobs.
The couple featured in the film is actually Currie’s Scots aunt and Irish uncle, Lindsay and Paul Devereux.
Their lives were changed for ever when Paul, a painter and decorator, suffered an aneurysm 10 years ago when he was 44-years-old. Surgeons operated but found another aneurysm in an even more dangerous place.
The couple were told that without another operation it could kill Paul at any time but operating would carry a high risk of brain damage, including short-term memory loss and possibly epilepsy.
Paul opted for the surgery but his short-term memory is badly affected and a bizarre quirk has left him telling the same jokes over and over again without realising it.
At the time of the surgery, the couple had been together for 15 years and had just finished building their dream house after saving to buy a plot of land in an isolated spot outside Dublin.
Now, with Paul no longer working, they are in debt but cannot sell the house because of the recession. Lindsay still works full-time as a nurse in Dublin, getting up at 5am and not returning until 8pm. As a respiratory nurse she has worked at the frontline of the coronavirus crisis while also caring for Paul, whose constant joking can wear extremely thin.
For Currie the main aim of making the film was to portray the burden of caring but she is delighted that it has gained a number of awards since its completion, including the Bafta Scotland award for Best Short Film and the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Best Short Documentary award.
It was also selected for the San Francisco International Film Festival and Hot Docs Canada – two Oscar-accredited festivals that were sadly postponed due to the Covid pandemic.
Currie said the response to the film had been a “real surprise”.
“People really relate to something in it and I’ve had lot of messages since it went out on Monday night,” she said. “It’s very heartbreaking but somehow it gives a sense of hope as well. There are universal themes in it of love and resilience – life can throw you shit but you can still find the light.
“It is also shot in a beautiful landscape featuring two warm, funny people that everyone tells me they want to meet because they seem so lovely.
“One woman who got in touch said her son’s brain injury had changed their lives massively but she told me the film had brought her a lot of comfort.”
Currie pointed out that Devereux’s predicament could happen to anyone.
“It is one of the worst things that could happen to you and is incredibly difficult for my aunt – watching the film you can understand why a lot of relationships don’t survive something like this.
“Carers are underfunded and they are often expected to do this on top of their own jobs. They don’t have any help and it creates massive problems.
“The system was already stretched and in the wake of Covid it is going to be stretched to breaking point.”
She said her aunt had been almost overwhelmed by the response but was delighted the film had touched so many.
Currie’s previous film about suicide was developed into a BBC half-hour programme called Lumo: Too Young To Die and went on to be used as an educational aid for people studying mental health.
She would like That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More to have a similar educational role, ideally with her aunt becoming a spokesperson for families dealing with brain injuries: “If the film is speaking to so many people I would love it to have a longer life.”
The film was produced through the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Bridging The Gap scheme, supported by Screen Scotland.