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 is an independent filmmaker who works as a one-person crew, to craft observational documentaries. Old South (2015) was broadcast on The World Channel on America ReFramed during African American History Month, toured The Southern Circuit, and community gardens in The American South via its Healing Spaces Tour, and is distributed by Women Make Movies. Beverly was Field Producer for the longitudinal 9/11 documentary Rebirth over the ten-year production, (Sundance 2011, Peabody Award, 9/11 Museum, Showtime broadcast). Learning to Swallow (2005) premiered at Silverdocs, screened on America ReFramed, and is distributed by Women Make Movies. Lonnie Holley: The Truth of the Dirt (2017, Co-Producer/Cinematographer) was broadcast on AfroPop (World Channel) in 2018, screened at The National Gallery, and won the Audience Award at Macon Film Festival. Beverly is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, in a joint appointment between the Evanston IL and Qatar campuses, where she teaches documentary filmmaking. Dusty Groove: The Sound of Transition is her third feature documentary as Director/Producer/Cameraperson/Soundperson, and will premiere in 2019. She is also at work on Qatar Stars, an observational documentary she is directing in The Middle East. Both projects are fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies. (7/19)


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