Interview with Toby Amies for Neuropsychiatry News
In an interview for the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Neuropsychiatry’s newsletter, Neuropsychiatry News (Winter 2015, pp. 33-37), the director of The Man Whose Mind Exploded, Toby Amies describes his approach and the ethical considerations involved in filming Drako Oho Zahazar, a man whose anterograde amnesia subsequent to two traumatic brain injuries means he can never remember his personal champion.
Following TMWME’s national release, what are your thoughts about the response to the film?
I am very, very happy with the way that the film has been received. We only had a very small budget to make and market the film but the reactions of the media and audiences has made sure that the film’s message has resonated much further than we expected. I very much doubt that there is another film that has received positive reviews in both the Lancet and Bizarre magazine!
Your approach to interacting with Drako reminds me of what’s been described as the ‘mentalizing stance’ (as described in mentalization-based treatment theory), where the interviewer takes a non-judgemental stance while remaining inquisitive about the individual’s thinking. Were you aware of that and how did you adapt your interview approach specifically to Drako?
I wasn’t aware of that approach and I’m not sure that I would describe my stance as non-judgemental! That said I would love and strive to be calmly objective in all the difficult situations I encounter. I think it’s probably fair to say that with Drako, I certainly didn’t think that his brain damage and condition made his point of view or experience any less valid than anyone else’s.
Not having had any clinical or ethical training, I tend to enter and approach situations on the basis of what I ascertain to be fair. There were instances in my interactions with Drako where I felt that he was unfair to me and I document one of these in the film. One of the guiding principles of the film was not to try and impose any kind of theories, narrative or worldview upon Drako but rather let him be the inspiration for the film’s form and structure and also the agent of his care and fate.
In the film his sister describes how she didn’t like Drako when they were younger though this changed after he adapted to his brain injuries. What would your views have been had you had met the younger Drako?
The more time I spend (and waste) on social media the more I grow to dislike narcissists. From what I know of Drako before his accidents, he seemed to be very self-involved. Whilst I might have appreciated his beauty and fearless pursuit of physical pleasure, I’m not sure that we would have got on as individuals.
The scene where you arrange for Drako to film you as you urge him to take care of himself is particularly memorable. Many carers must go through similar experiences of exasperation. Do you think conversations like that had any effect on Drako? Do you think that your involvement impacted on his well-being?
I honestly don’t know. So many of the conversations that I had with Drako seemed to enter his head without entering his memory in any permanent sense. It was difficult to know to what degree he just wasn’t remembering and / or was choosing not to engage. Frankly, I still feel a significant amount of guilt, because even though I felt that I did everything that I could at the time to help in a practical sense whilst being respectful of his clear desire for autonomy, he still died.
Clearly there were considerable ethical concerns of filming someone with questionable capacity. What has been the most justified criticism?
I suppose the one that’s implicit in your question; should I have been working with someone who, to use your terms, had “questionable capacity”? I am not in any sense a medical professional, so in working with Drako I first, and consistently ensured that I had the permission and blessing of the people who were closest to him. In addition to his own point of view, I thought that they were in the best position to decide what was “best for him”.
If you had the opportunity, what else would you have liked to have included in the film?
Less! It’s probably more a question of showing less than I did as there are still shots in the film that I think we could have done without and still had the same impact. When I watch the film now, I see a series of mistakes and compromises and shoddy camera work. But now that it’s out there, all that really matters to me is how it affects the audience and how they have been moved by Drako’s story.
Some people have said that they would’ve liked to have known more about Drako’s biography but one of the things that we noticed during editing was that those historical sequences were a rather flat experience. One of my favourite things about the film is that so much of it is in the moment – that we are experiencing being with Drako – not just looking at flat pictures and hearing a story. Instead and appropriately, we’re “being in the now”, which was Drako’s dominant experience of life.
You said at one of the film screenings that his most creative phase was possibly during his final years. How would you describe what that involved?
I don’t think I investigated Drako’s creative process perhaps as deeply as I could have. However, it seemed to me that without [Drako] being overly self-conscious or aware of it, that he was involved in creating a tangible version of his identity through an intuitive process of montage in two and three dimensions within his flat. Within the context of this work, Drako expressed his obsessions, spoke to himself and through the visitors to his flat, to the outside world.
After his death I archived as much of this work as possible because I think it’s an important piece of British outsider art and one day I hope to rebuild part of it as an installation. It’s significant that Drako trained as an interior designer and without wanting to be glib, it’s tempting to think of him as an outsider interior designer!
Interview with film review featured in RCPsych Faculty of Neuropsychiatry’s newsletter, Neuropsychiatry News (Winter 2015, pp. 33-37). Link to film review.
The Man Whose Mind Exploded is available to download here.
Hear the original radio documentary The Man Whose Minded Exploded for free here.
Why aren’t there more truly independent films in British cinemas?
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Tags: Dr Greg Neate, Faculty of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychiatry News, Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, Toby Amies