Out of toon: Animator outlines his bipolar struggle

Ward of the state: The 11-minute animated film “Eli,” screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sept. 21, follows a bipolar teenager while he stays in a psychiatric facility.
Nate Milton

This flick illustrates a real problem.

A Bedford-Stuyvesant animator has created a short film about his struggles with bipolar disorder, screening as part of the weekend-long Animation Block Party at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, running Sept. 20–22. The 11-minute cartoon “Eli” follows a teenager during a manic episode, based on the director’s own experience.

“Three years ago I had a manic episode and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” said Nate Milton. “The manic episode itself was very science-fiction, it felt spiritual.”

The Brooklyn cartoonist re-imagined his mental travails through the fictional teenager Eli, who believes that a supernatural raccoon has inserted a meteor rock in his ear, which emits a noise that keeps him from sleeping, and he ends up institutionalized.

Milton spent time in a Rhode Island psych ward, then wrote and rewrote his story for the next two years, finally drawing it in a five-month creative burst in late 2018. The art project helped him to deal with his feelings about that troubled time, he said.

“I wanted to get a lot of that stuff off of my chest,” he said.

The protagonist in the story finds release by harmonizing with the space rock’s hum, which parallels the way that Milton found peace by pursuing his own craft.

“Eli’s supposed to be this musical savant kid, him landing on these songs he’s playing is like me landing on this film. The animation process has always been very meditative for me,” he said.

Milton showed some signs of mental illness while growing up, and said that it would have helped him to know that, while his troubles were in his head, they could still have a real impact on his psyche.

“It would have been helpful for me to get a third person’s perspective,” he said. “The mission statement of the film is that this stuff did happen, but it’s not factual — it’s what I perceived to be happening.”

“Eli” is the longest segment in the “Narrative Works, Independents, Local Filmmakers” block of short films, screening on Sept. 21.

Other highlights of the Animated Block Party include the new Chinese fantasy feature “White Snake,” a “Female Animators” block of cartoons by women, and a 35mm print of 1979’s “The Bugs Bunny/Road-Runner Movie.”

“Eli” at BAM Rose Cinema [30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Sept. 21 at 4:30 p.m. $16 ($11 seniors and children).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Trash panda: The title character in “Eli” imagines a giant raccoon in his bedroom.
Nate Milton

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