Learning to Swallow

A film by Danielle Beverly

US | 2005 | 89 minutes | Color | DVD | Order No. 151167


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.


“It is rare that a film can so meticulously capture the essence of a complicated person.”

Mary Kerr, Programming Director SilverDocs

“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


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


Danielle Beverly

DANIELLE BEVERLY began a career at Chicago’s PBS affiliate and regularly directs for PBS and cable since 1999. Since 2002, Beverly was Field Producer for the longitudinal documentary REBIRTH over its ten-year production (Sundance World Premiere 2011; Showtime broadcast; George Foster Peabody Award; screened at The White House, US Department of State film tour; permanent exhibition at National September 11 Memorial & Museum).

As an Independent Filmmaker, Beverly typically works as a one person crew, recording picture and audio alone, in the field. Beverly is currently in production or post production on two feature length documentaries OLD SOUTH and DUSTY GROOVE: THE SOUND OF TRANSITION.
Beverly’s first documentary feature LEARNING TO SWALLOW (2005) followed a charismatic artist with bipolar disorder, as she struggles to rebuild her life, after a suicide attempt destroys her digestive system. The film premiered in competition at Silverdocs (2005), screened internationally, and traveled to small rural communities as part of The Southern Circuit.

Her filmmaking, photography and digital media work have received funding from The Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA), The Puffin Foundation, The Chicago Cultural and Tourism Fund, The Center for Peacemaking, and The Diederich College Initiative on Communication Ethics, Values and Social Justice. In 2012, Beverly was awarded a Mary L. Nohl Artists Fellowship for Established Artists. In 2014, Beverly was awarded a BAVC National MediaMaker Fellowship.

Beverly also freelances as a documentary Cameraperson, working solo or as a two person crew. Recent projects include a permanent museum video about the new (2014) Anderson Collection at Stanford, as well as social issue documentaries such as Brad Lichtenstein’s AS GOES JANESVILLE (Independent Lens, national EMMY nomination).

Beverly has been a Professor of Filmmaking at The University of Notre Dame, a Professional in Residence in Digital Media at Marquette University, and and is currently Assistant Professor in Residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, teaching documentary filmmaking. (1/15)


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