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Willow has Dissociative Identity Disorder. A new documentary paints a complex portrait of a tough topic.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND FILM FESTIVAL - 'I Am We' follows Willow, a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, a rare condition more commonly known as multiple personalities.

This story is part of our ongoing series on the Portland Film Festival. Click here for more coverage.

"I Am We" challenged me in all the best ways. This documentary invites you into the world of a woman we know mostly as Willow, who experienced profound childhood trauma that caused her to develop what is now called Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

Benefitting from the generous and careful work of Willow, her therapist and other experts, her family, and a very supportive group of friends, the film offers a delicate pathway to understanding what is known as a disorder but in many ways is a testament to the resilience of the human mind.

This is a difficult story to tell well. As the film acknowledges, popular depictions of DID create a very distorted picture, which deepens the isolation of the estimated 1.5% of the general population that experiences DID.

As a result of 12 years of terrible abuse that she experienced as a child, the woman at the center of the film fractured into 40 different personalities, some of whom the film engages with.

She and others with DID express how they experience their tribes of personalities as a sort of life raft that helped them to survive the unsurvivable, as different parts of the psyche hold pieces of their suffering.

Director Ron Davis approaches the subject with great care, benefitting from access to a person with a set of personalities that she is willing to share and a supportive community to help her share it. Her community of friends models how to be in community with her/them; one of the friends actually participated in Willow's therapy sessions for an extended period of time.

Willow introduces us to other personalities and she and others in the film help us understand the role the personalities are playing.

The trauma that Willow experienced in childhood is introduced to us in fragments also, paralleling her/their journey in collecting the pieces of truth that are held by the separate personalities. The work of piecing together what they can serves to support the work of building understanding for an isolated and misunderstood community — a community of communities.

This film holds the potential to challenge those of us who are willing to confront the limits of our understanding of the human mind and its capacity to endure and survive great suffering. Watching it offers a master class in empathy and solidarity that left me moved, shaken, and changed.

Film reviewer Darleen Ortega is a lifelong fan of movies and will be covering the Portland Film Festival for Pamplin Media Group. In her day job, Ortega is judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals.


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