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Learning to Swallow
A film by Danielle Beverly
US, 2005, 89 minutes, Color, DVD
Order No. W151167

Learning to Swallow is an intimate, haunting and ultimately empowering portrait of a bipolar artist’s courageous and successful attempt to rebuild her life after a suicide attempt destroys her digestive system. Patsy Desmond, a charismatic, emerging artist and “it girl” seemingly had it all: admiring friends and lovers, a prestigious work assignment with an internationally renowned artist in New York City and the potential to successfully realize her dreams in the art world. Yet in spite of this, Patsy struggled in an ongoing battle with bipolar disorder. An eventual failed suicide attempt leaves Patsy unable to swallow and in a battle for her life both emotionally and physically.

Over four rocky years, we follow Patsy as she struggles to accept her physical condition, overcome addiction and learns to deal with the life she now faces: recovery and healing. Her inability to eat and her emotional state transform her artistic voice in the process. Filmmaker Danielle Beverly (OLD SOUTH) captures Patsy’s raw honesty and wit even as she becomes increasingly frail. By the end of the film, hope and an undying spirit prevail. Patsy renews her pact with art and life. Required viewing for psychology courses and studies around mental health.


  • Silverdocs
  • Chicago International Film Festival
  • Woodstock Film Festival
  • Pärnu International Documentary and Anthropology Film Festival
  • Bergen International Film Festival
  • Southern Circuit Tour

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    “It is rare that a film can so meticulously capture the essence of a complicated person.”
    Mary Kerr, Programming Director

    “Beverly’s camera is uncompromising in acknowledging Desmond’s humor and undying spirit, even as she becomes increasingly frail before our eyes. By the end of the film, as Desmond declares herself through her artwork and in her own terms, the camera can almost see her heart, both literally and figuratively.”
    Deirdre Haj, Executive Director
    Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

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WMM offers film collections on a variety of specific subject areas, including the collections VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Ending the Silence, BODY IMAGE, and AFRICAN-AMERICAN: Celebrate the Lives of African-American Women.

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© Women Make Movies, 2005
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Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitiates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. contact us