Making the film, “The Divided Brain” has been an exciting journey for all involved. For producer, Vanessa Dylyn, “The Divided Brain” has been the passion project of her career while for Dr. Iain McGilchrist, it has been an eye-opening adventure into a complex process. Recently, Vanessa and Dr. Iain McGilchrist met for dinner in London to discuss the film and other matters. Vanessa shared her experience in an interview. This interview is edited for clarity and space. Interview conducted by Cathleen MacDonald
CM: Before talking about your dinner with Dr. Iain McGilchrist, let’s set the scene. You first met Iain in 2012 to pitch the film, “The Divided Brain”. Since then, how have you and he worked together, given that you are in Canada while he is in the UK?
VANESSA: You’ll recall that I first met Iain when he came to Toronto for a speaking engagement. I took that opportunity to present my idea for a film based on his book, “The Master and his Emissary”. Though he took my presentation seriously, before I could get ‘the green light’, several things had to come together. We collaborated long-distance using Skype and calls. Our first director, David Malone, was in the UK, so he worked in seclusion with Iain over a weekend to come up with some themes that they felt should be covered in the film. In 2014, I went to London to meet with Iain and David to revamp the project since our key UK and Canadian broadcasters weren’t biting. Then we lost David to another project. So in 2016, when we were ready to go into production, Manfred Becker came on board. This was an unexpectedly smooth transition. I knew I had the best Canadian director for the film – he understood Iain’s work instinctively.
CM: To film “The Divided Brain”, how extensively did the crew and Iain travel?
VANESSA: The crew and Dr. McGilchrist filmed on the Isle of Skye, in London and Oxford, in Switzerland, Germany, California, in Toronto, Kingston, Calgary, and Vancouver. They endured very long days.
CM: How did you feel when you saw the footage from those filming trips?
VANESSA: It was much better than I expected. I kept hearing of the usual production problems: Too much driving, everyone was tired, a car ending up in a ditch, etc. but when I saw the footage, I was really impressed by how beautiful the images were and by how well the sequences flowed. The most spectacular image for me was the German neuroscientist, Jürg Kesselring, who specializes in stroke victims, who is playing the cello outside, in his lab coat, surrounded by mountains. I thought, “Yes! This is the kind of breadth I wanted the film to have – the lab coat, playing music in nature – the beautiful marriage of left and right hemisphere.”
CM: After a few years of collaborating long-distance, you and Dr. McGilchrist finally reunited in person. How did that come about?
VANESSA: In December, I was on a trip to Stockholm for a documentary congress, so I decided to drop into London and meet Iain for dinner. Iain happened to be in London because he was having treatment for cancer.
CM: Tell me about your dinner meeting with Iain. Where did you go? What did the two of you talk about?
VANESSA: We met at a Thai restaurant, Patara, near Leicester Square. I wanted to catch up with him personally and see how he was doing – how he was coping with his treatment. I told him he looked wonderful and he said he felt fine. We toasted to his health and to the film being well on its way – me with my glass of wine and I think he had a beer. His thoughts were on the film and his first words were, “What’s happening?” and “How does it look?” We chatted about the film – practical stuff like when it was going to be completed and when we would have all the money to finish it?
We reminisced about scenes he had filmed and we talked about the importance of finding the balance between showing people who support Iain’s ideas and showing those who challenge them. Iain also commented on how surprised he was by the whole complexity of creating a film: the financing, paperwork, scheduling and just the grueling schedule of each filming day. By the end of each day the poor man was exhausted.
We also enjoyed talking about his clips with John Cleese. You see, Iain and John were barely acquainted personally before they filmed some scenes together. Right away they had such an easy banter. When I saw the footage I thought they were so natural together – they seemed to share the same funny bone. We talked about John Cleese’s work on “Monty Python” and I mentioned to Iain that if we ever did any more filming with John, I would hope he might do his famous ‘silly walk’ for us. We were very excited about the film being invited to the Sheffield Documentary Festival. We’re eager to finish the film in time to send it to the festival and Iain is looking forward to publicising the film when it’s released.
CM: How did you feel after your dinner meeting? What were the take-aways?
VANESSA: I felt re-energized about trying to get more funding to complete the film. It was inspirational being with Iain. I felt grateful that despite the mountains of difficulty trying to raise money to create a film that will honour Iain’s work and a film that will appeal to any thinking person, I felt grateful and blessed to be doing this film. I feel Iain is one of the great thinkers of our age and I feel privileged to make his work available to a wide international public through the medium of film. I just felt re-energized and felt that I had to get on with this task.