“My familiar panic set in – how can a linear documentary film do justice to the result of 20 years of research and writing -”
Manfred Becker, Director, The Divided Brain
First, a bit of background: A number of years ago I was commissioned to do a documentary on psychoanalysis. By the time I left the broadcaster’s offices, the sense of triumph of having ‘scored’ a project commission quickly changed into panic about the prospect of walking into a minefield of Freud’s oeuvre, with followers and detractors shooting salvos at each other. How on earth could I, a media generalist, make a 45-minute documentary on that ‘whole climate of opinion,’ in the most superficial of all mass media, commercial television?
A turning point
I re-emerged a year later, with grey hair and a film that did reasonable well for the broadcaster and in the festival and award’s circuit. I decided that making films about ideas was for me! So I jumped at Vanessa Dylan’s offer to read the book, The Master and his Emissary, and meet the author, Iain McGilchrist.
The book itself, with 500+ pages plus an additional 100 pages of footnotes, is no walk in the park. At times, my head did physically hurt, just like in that famous Monty Python ‘brain’ sketch. But in the end I realized that the comparison of Iain’s ideas to Charles Darwin was not promotional hyperbole, but fully earned.
Afterwards, my familiar panic set in – how can a linear documentary film do justice to the result of 20 years of research and writing (a 1/3 of anyone’s entire professional career!) that tackles brain science, human history, and even offers a way out of the current crisis in our civilization? “Of course I can’t replicate the experience of immersing yourself in the book!” I accepted the fact that a state of panic is a necessary pre-requisite to be creative. What a documentary film can do is something else, and not any less ambitious: to give some scientific background to understand McGilchrist’s thinking, and to find a visually compelling way to illustrate the richness of his key concepts. And even though I would tease Iain about his book appearing in the self-help section of book stores, there is empowerment and possibility in looking at what seems familiar to us from a new perspective, about the way we view the world, evaluate our behaviour towards fellow human beings, so that we may question one or two things about our lives that we assumed could only be “one way.”
When I met Iain I was assured that we could take on that creative challenge together, as I experienced a man who was approachable, funny, and self-deprecating in a charming British kind of way. Iain also knew instantly that humour and lightness were essential to bring his big ideas to an audience that doesn’t have the time or inclination to read 600 pages of dense thought.
So our journey started, in style: Driving up to Iain’s spectacular estate on the windswept Isle of Skye in Scotland, I drove the rental car into the ditch. And we had our first story …