I’m Not Here

Student Alec Brown reviewing his film "I'm Not Here" in the Film School labs

Film student Alec Brown reviewing his award-winning short film “I’m Not Here.” Photo by Cydnie Smith-McCarthy

“It’s time for us to accept that depression and anxiety are real,” says Film School student Alec Brown, creator of “I’m Not Here,” a short film about the day in the life of an anxiety-driven young man. Since its creation last semester, the minimalist, three-day project has been recognized by the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, the Albuquerque Film Festival, Albuquerque’s Film and Music Experience, as well as Durango  and Kansas City’s film festivals for its bare all truths regarding the plagues of mental illness. “It’s time that we stop shrugging them off as non-existent issues or jokes,” Brown says, “and it’s time that we start looking at life through other people’s eyes.”

Brown describes the project as showcasing his own experience with clinical depression and anxiety and says that though the visual story of a seemingly happy young man hanging out with friends is fictional, his skeleton crew of five—including film students Eli Schaefer, Omar Hilario, Nathaniel Regier and Nicolai Valdiviesco-Sinyakov—captured a very authentic experience.    


Often those living with depression and anxiety, Brown explains, don’t show it on a day to day basis. Photo by Cydnie Smith-McCarthy

“I wasn’t acting really in the film,” Brown says. “If I felt sad or on the verge of tears or really scared I got one of my cinematographers and I said, ‘get your camera, we have to shoot this scene now. I don’t care where we shoot it, let’s just shoot it.’”

In this guerrilla-style filmmaking, Brown says that the story felt real, “and not real in a novus film student ‘I want my film to look real!’ kind of real,’ but a ‘this happens and there’s no way to get around that’ kind of real.” As such, Brown admits that there was no premeditated script, but rather a passionate goal that would justify the use, for example, of multiple cameras, multiple cinematographers, and no professional lights.

“This film is to help people realize how serious a topic this is and that it is not just something you get over,” says film student Eli Schaefer, who co-edited the film with Omar Hilario and who would later go on to win best the award for editing from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. Because Schaefer and Brown were previous friends, Schaefer explains that when Alec approached her about the project, she felt like Brown’s passion was enough incentive to get her on board.  

“I am very honored and grateful for how much success it has gotten,” Schaefer says. “It’s important to get the message out and that is our main goal, it doesn’t matter how many awards we do or don’t get, as long as people see our story, that is what counts. And, seeing Alec light up about the piece and its success has made me happy too.”

According to the filmmaker, the event that put the project’s wheels in motion was the death of Robin Williams and what Brown remembers as the media’s negative portrayal of the circumstances. “A lot of people know that Robin Williams had depression and anxiety,” Brown says, “they knew he suffered from it, but the media portrayed it as this rare thing…It might be shocking that someone as funny as Robin Williams could do something like that, but you know what, he’s a human being just like everyone else. He has his problems just like everyone else and I think it’s time that we recognize this as a society.”  


Despite the misconceptions, one can still be happy and funny while living with clinical anxiety or depression. Photo by Cydnie Smith-McCarthy

Keeping his intentions in mind, Brown explains that he wanted to keep the project a secret until he was ready to give his community the wake up call.

“The thing is, I try to be the funny guy,” he says, “and sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m not, but either way I always try to make people happy and the reason I wanted to keep “I’m Not Here” a secret during filming was that when I showed people it would catch people off guard.” Brown says he’d hear from them, ‘Wow, I thought in order to be depressed that meant you were sad or scared 100 percent of the time,’ but no, you can be happy. And that’s a common misconception about depression and anxiety.” 

With additional attention coming from celebrities like Claudia Christian, who watched Brown’s film before a premiere of her newest film at Albuquerque Film Fest, Brown explains that the attention rate has only increased and he feels both grateful and happy for the growing awareness of the topic.  

“I want to get my story out and I’m just glad it’s going places and I’m glad people are finding solace in the fact that this is something that a lot of people go through and that people that do go through it are not alone.” 

Alec Brown's movie poster for "I'm Not Here"

“I’m Not Here” movie poster, designed by Alec Brown