Latest from Michael Leader

(16 articles)

Berlin 2016: Hail, Caesar!

12 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Festivals

Film4 Site Editor Michael Leader reports on the Berlinale’s opening film, written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen…

Hail Caesar

Since it follows the Coen Brothers’ essayistic dive into 1960s Greenwich Village, Inside Llewyn Davis, by three years, there’s a temptation to expect Hail, Caesar! to be a similar exploration of a community on the cusp of change. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a character based on a fearsome fixer and architect behind numerous notorious cover-ups during his time as an MGM executive, is the latest example of what is becoming something of an archetypal Coens protagonist. Like Llewyn Davis and A Serious Man’s Larry Gopnik, he is plying his trade in the midst of social upheaval; ‘real world’ threats both spoken and subtly implied, from television to McCarthyism, loom over Mannix’s kingdom, and hint that tinseltown’s lavish spectacle may falter in the post-war, Atomic age.

However, for most of the film, his crisis of faith is a mere backdrop for a smorgasbord of arched-eyebrow pastiche, with the Coens taking the opportunity to roam free on an idealised backlot, hopping from studio to studio and peeking in on broad riffs on familiar 40s films. Hail, Caesar! soon reveals itself to be best described with statements voiced, like its title, in exclamation. Channing Tatum – in an athletic, Gene Kelly-style musical number! Tilda Swinton – as identical twin gossip columnists! Scarlett Johansson – as a seasoned starlet in the thick of a potential scandal! What initially presents itself as an existential drama coiled around a caper (involving the kidnapping of a caddish Kirk Douglas-alike, played by George Clooney) soon unfurls into a series of impeccably realised routines, eye-catching cameos (Christopher Lambert, as a European-in-exile director?!) and film-fan in-jokes.

There’s much to enjoy here, not least a standout turn for Alden Ehrenreich, who turns a parody of wooden Western stars into the film’s most unironically winsome character, but those who responded to Inside Llewyn Davis’ mingling of drama and cultural criticism might be left a little baffled by this lighter, fanciful take on a dark aspect of industry history. Scurrilous tales of Golden-Age Hollywood have experienced a revival in recent years, thanks in no small part to film critic Karina Longworth’s enthralling podcast You Must Remember This and Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’ noir-ish crime comic The Fade-Out, which both draw inspiration from Mannix’s exploits. With that in mind, Hail, Caesar!’s most surprising quality is – in the face of Hollywood Babylon-esque legend – that it presents a rather uncynical, even romantic, view of a bygone era and cinema itself. And isn’t that the best way to start a film festival?

Lowell Dean on WolfCop

17 Dec, 2015 Posted in: Film4 Channel, Interview

As his lycanthropic comedy-horror WolfCop receives its TV premiere on Film4, writer-director Lowell Dean talks to editor Michael Leader about practical effects, making films in Canada, and previously-unseen werewolf anatomy…


What was the starting point for WolfCop? Did the title come first, and everything flowed from there?

As ridiculous as it sounds, WolfCop was born when I was trying to decide between writing a werewolf script… and a cop script. Out of frustration, I smashed the two together and instantly fell in love with the idea. I called it WolfCop, but I wasn’t sold on the title until I started testing it on friends. They would always respond with laughter and excitement.

It’s clear that you are dedicated to the practical make-up and gore effects, especially during the transformation scene – which is an essential component of all great werewolf movies. What do you think makes a good werewolf transformation, and how did you bring that to WolfCop?

In my opinion a good transformation scene requires two things. First, you need amazing special effects – be they digital or practical. Second, you need a unique approach to the material, something to set your movie apart from the rest.

For WolfCop, we knew we didn’t have the budget to do something as epic as An American Werewolf in London – which for me is the benchmark of transformation scenes. We knew we would be lucky to get 4 or 5 effects shots in our movie, so we focused on the question “what have we not seen before?” For me, the answer was a werewolf penis. We always see hands… eyes… teeth… hair growing…and so on. Once I said “werewolf penis” out loud, and once Emersen Ziffle (Practical Effects Artist) and I finished laughing, we knew we had to do it!


When making WolfCop, what were your key touchstones when it comes to wolf films, cop films and comedy-horrors?

I had a long list. For me it was less about cop films and werewolf films, more about films that walk the line between horror and comedy, or just general weirdness. Inspiring projects like Ghostbusters, Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead, Twin Peaks… the list goes on!

We recently interviewed the Soska Sisters, and they said it was hard to succeed as filmmakers in Canada due to the overwhelming influence of the States. What was it like trying to come up as a filmmaker based in Saskatchewan? And was it hard to get WolfCop off the ground?

I won’t lie, being a filmmaker coming up in Saskatchewan was definitely a challenge. I’m sure it’s the same all across Canada. That being said, I was lucky enough to have a small and passionate group of friends around me who eat, sleep, and breathe independent film.

Despite our collective passion, it was very hard to get WolfCop off the ground. After some rejection, our team entered the project into the first ever CineCoup Accelerator – a nationwide incubator for Canadian film. We were lucky enough to be selected (from 90 possible projects), ensuring we’d have a million dollar budget, and a release in Canadian theatres.


What were the key things you learned from the process of developing and producing the film via CineCoup?

The CineCoup process was 3 months long, and just as challenging (if not more so) than making the actual movie! Each week we had to produce a two minute video outlining a different aspect of our project… and then engage people on social media as they’d rate our videos, ask questions, and vote for which teams should stay or be eliminated. It was intense! In the end, it was also very rewarding – and not just because our project was the one selected.

It was rewarding to get feedback on a weekly basis. It was so weird to know – months before we even shot the movie – what people were hoping and expecting from WolfCop! It was a very unique and backwards approach to filmmaking and connecting to an audience. I learned a lot!

WolfCop screens on Film4 at 11.25pm on Saturday 19th December 2015.

Jen & Sylvia Soska on American Mary

23 Oct, 2015 Posted in: Film4 Channel, Interview

Three years after its world premiere at Film4 FrightFest 2012, the Soska Sisters’ American Mary receives its UK TV premiere as part of Film4′s Halloween Weekend line-up on October 30th. To mark the occasion, the twin writer-directors speak with editor Michael Leader about their gory body-modification horror.


Where did the interest in the body modification scene come from?

Sylvia Soska: There was an April Fools’ prank that got us interested in the body modification scene that featured two identical twin brothers doing a limb swap, but the fascination with the BM scene initially started from Clive Barker’s masterpiece, Hellraiser, which we saw at the ripe old age of 12. I think people have so many avenues of interest within them to express themselves and BM is a form with so many different subsections of who is doing what and why. When I met Clive before we went into production, I talked to him about the body mod scene and he was so wonderfully supportive. Making a film like this when it was made was an uphill battle the entire way; having people who supported it like my parents, Todd Masters of Masters FX, Katharine Isabelle, and Eli Roth there to support made the film possible.

Jen Soska: Our mum taught us that fear comes from a lack of understanding and ignorance so if something frightens you, educate yourself about it. When I first stumbled across body modification I didn’t know what to think. BM is so negatively portrayed by the media and truly for no good reason. I don’t understand why cosmetic surgery is deemed as acceptable whereas BM is seen as the actions of an unstable mind when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. BM is the pursuit of the individual finding and expressing their identity and what they feel is beautiful. They’re doing it for themselves. I find many times cosmetic surgery is a social pressure to conform and look in the “one ideal way of beauty”, the North American ideal.


Katharine Isabelle makes a perfect Mary. How did you come to cast her? Had you seen her in (Canadian teen-horror classic) Ginger Snaps?

S: The way we were introduced to Katharine’s work was through Ginger Snaps. We were teased excessively growing up and eventually they started calling us the Fitzgerald sisters which was her and Emily Perkins’ characters in the film. We watched the movie and those characters made us feel strong. I loved the relationship between sisters and puberty explored through werewolfism. After that, I found every film I could with Katharine in it. She is always fantastic – literally one of the most gifted actresses to ever grace the screen – but I grew frustrated that there wasn’t a better example of how versatile she is. We wrote the script with her in mind – things I as a fan wanted to see.

J: Katie is a phenomenal actress. We’d been long time fans of her work and were frustrated to not see her get bigger opportunities. In Canada, it almost feels like you hit this glass ceiling of success. To truly succeed you need to move to the States. There are so many projects that shoot in Canada but hire American talent for no good reason. We wanted to work with Katie and see her in this role as she, up until that point, hadn’t been given the chance to play this really complex and a mature character and we knew she’d be able to pull it off effortlessly. Which she did!

I love your cameo as the freaky twins who want to strengthen the ‘connection between themselves and each other’ through body modification. How does that connection work in real life, do you work as a demonic duo or do you have separate roles in the creative process?

S: That’s a great question! The Demon Twins of Berlin were created from what people expect us to be when they meet us. In reality, we’re very bubbly and happy, but they expect someone sultry and dangerous with a bit of a crazy edge. I don’t think there is a stronger relationship than being a twin. We have spent the last 32 years together and working as a team. We are different sides of the same coin. Jen has this beautiful heart and she is so good with people, her creativity comes from a world I wish I could live in, in our company she is the Chairman and I’m the President, we are a team ‘til the end. She’s just amazing – and funny, it’s a dry sense of humour but it works.

J: My twin is my favourite person ever. We’re two sides of the same coin. She’s such a talented artist and has this dark, brilliant mind. I’m fortunate to have been born with her so I get to work with her and share all our adventures together. On set and in life, we divide and conquer. We can communicate with just a look. We’re quite the force to be reckoned with. Sylv always pushes me to be better and stronger and I think it shows in our lives and work.


What was your route into the horror genre, both as filmmakers and fans? Did any particular films or directors inspire you?

S: My mum is what got me into horror. Every little girl wants to be as cool as their mom and ours has always been so funny, brave, and artistic. We started with Poltergeist, but Todd Masters’ work on Tales from the Crypt and Six Feet Under hooked us forever on makeup and FX. Our inspirations are Wes Craven, Mary Harron, Takashi Miike, Dario Argento, Clive Barker, John Carpenter, Eli Roth, and John Landis. I love what Richard Bates Jr (Excision, Suburban Gothic) has been doing in all of his films – he just has this undeniable quality of genuine humanity in his films. I adore Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s film work – they are so effortlessly stylish and cool. [Wingard & Barrett’s You’re Next premieres on Film4 on October 31st - Ed]

J: SO many. Everyone Sylv mentioned, of course. Robert Rodriguez was a big one. He literally inspired a generation of filmmakers to get off their asses and make their own movies. He’s a big part of the reason why we do what we do. Him and Tarantino. Anyone that talks shit about Tarantino is a jackass. It’s like those douche bags that say “the Beatles were overrated”. Tarantino has changed cinema. He’s an icon. He’s defied genre filmmaking by making his own brand of films that aren’t part of any genre and are part of every genre all at once. He’s a genius.

This is such a Canadian film – from the cast and crew to the shooting location. Why did you title it ‘American Mary’?

S: The working title was Lab Rat because the story focused so much on vengeance from Rat, the first under the table surgery she does, but because of the way that scenario turns out, it didn’t seem like the right catalyst to her descent to her grave. The surgery on Ruby was the one that there were many opportunities to get out of, yet Mary still decided to do the surgery. Self-preservation and self-promotion selfishly drove her actions into a darker area which would lead to her death. The story is so much hers, that it had to be Mary. Bloody Mary didn’t make sense because that’s only a fraction of what’s going on here. There’s a song I love by The National called ‘American Mary’ and our Mary lived in Seattle, chasing the American dream.

J: As I said before, you can’t really achieve ultimate success, particularly in our fields, without going to America. It’s the land of dreams and where everything is possible. The story itself wouldn’t have worked as African Mary or Australia Mary or even British Mary and certainly not Canadian Mary. I hate to say it, but America is the land obsessed with appearances and the constant pressure to look this way or be more beautiful or thinner or have bigger boobs or a smaller nose. This obsession with an unachievable ideal of perfection is the downfall of many and something that we all invest way too much time in. But it’s encouraged in America. It also gave us the right setting to compare BM to cosmetic surgery. One is acceptable, one is not. But what is really the difference between the two aside from one is done to “fit in” and the other is the pursuit of one’s own beauty and individuality? And, curiously, that’s the form that is villainised.

American Mary premieres on Film4 on Friday 30th October 2015, as part of Halloween Weekend.

Michael Leader’s 20 LFF 2015 recommendations

Site Editor Michael Leader rounds out our team’s picks for this year’s London Film Festival…

This time last year, I picked a mixture of already-seen and the dying-to-see from the LFF’s 2014 line-up. This time around, I’ve seen far fewer festival favourites – but therein lies the excitement of perusing the LFF’s all-you-can-eat buffet of 2015’s buzziest films. I’ll be gorging on many more come October, but for now here are 20 that I wouldn’t dare miss.


35mm: The Quays Meet Christopher Nolan

Stephen & Timothy Quay are hugely influential and widely respected in animation circles but, unlike their stop-motion contemporaries (think Jan Švankmajer, Nick Park and Henry Selick), they still sit outside of mainstream appreciation of the artform. These restored prints of their shorts In Absentia, The Comb and Street Of Crocodiles, screening alongside a short, eight-minute documentary about the brothers’ methods directed by Christopher Nolan, will be a sure-fire delight whether or not you’re familiar with the Quays’ distinctive work. [Buy tickets]

Elephant Days

The Maccabees’ behind-the-record film Elephant Days isn’t so much up my street as literally shot down my street, reportedly serving as a documentary portrait of the much maligned Elephant & Castle area of South London, which I’ve called home since 2009. The Elephant’s appeared on screen in the past as a forbidding backdrop for inner-city terror (at best, Attack The Block; at worst, Harry Brown); a more personal take on the neighbourhood is long overdue. [Buy tickets]


Elstree 1976

I love Star Wars, but not as much as I love documentaries about people who haven’t so much had a brush with fame, as stood in proximity to it (such as music docs Anvil and Mistaken For Strangers). Jon Spira’s film combines the two to introduce us to ten performers who played bit parts in George Lucas’s blockbusting sci-fi adventure, which should offer a much-needed respite from the relentless hype-train for Episode VII. [Buy tickets]


Francois Truffaut’s landmark series of candid interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, published as Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock in 1967 (afterwards translated into English as Hitchcock/Truffaut), is one of my go-to film books, and it sounds like Kent Jones’ documentary – which features filmmakers including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese – serves as both a fitting companion to the book, and an effective illustration of Hitchcock’s enduring influence. [Buy tickets]

I Am Belfast

No doubt one for fans of Chris Petit, Andrew Kotting and Patrick Keiller, the latest from Story Of Film director/critic Mark Cousins is a ‘metaphorical essay’ about his hometown, which recasts Belfast as a 10,000 year old lady with a rich and complex history, complete with archive footage, a soundtrack by composer David Holmes (Hunger, ‘71), and cinematography from Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love, Hero). [Buy tickets]

In Jackson Heights

After last year’s National Gallery, seasoned documentarian Frederick Wiseman returns with a look at one of New York’s most diverse neighbourhoods, observing the everyday life of a population that speaks 167 languages. Wiseman’s patient filmmaking style isn’t for everyone – his films are rarely under three hours long, and In Jackson Heights is no exception – but the texture and detail found in his work are second to none. [Buy tickets]

The Invitation

I’m expecting to spend most of my time at the LFF gleefully devouring the dark genre delights in the Cult selection (check out the full line-up here), but I’m most excited to see The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) – a slowburn chamber piece that wrests tension, paranoia and anxiety out of the most simple of social engagements: the dinner party. [Buy tickets]

Janis, Little Girl Blue

Every year, the LFF’s Sonic strand delivers a strong selection of music documentaries, and 2015’s line-up is no different, judging by the inclusion of Danny Says, a portrait of Ramones manager and ‘pop culture Zelig’ Danny Fields; Sacha Jenkins’ hip-hop fashion doc Fresh Dressed and, most notably, this comprehensive look at the life and music of Janis Joplin, directed by Oscar nominee Amy Berg (West Of Memphis). [Buy tickets]

Listen To Me Marlon

Continuing the trend set by the likes of Amy and Cobain: Montage Of Heck, this bio-doc from director Stevan Riley (Fire In Babylon, Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007) sets its sights on another inscrutable icon, the legendary Marlon Brando, offering an intimate portrait through the actor’s personal archive of audio recordings, encompassing everything from press interviews and business meetings to hypnosis and therapy sessions. [Buy tickets]

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ deft, deliciously twisted, yet ultimately moving satire on the culture of coupledom bagged the Jury Prize at Cannes in May, and finally makes it way to the UK as the LFF’s Dare Gala. This deadpan, dystopian drama, featuring a stellar cast including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, is like no other film in the selection: an oddball treat for romantics with a perverse sense of humour. [Buy tickets]



Johnnie To, the king of stylish Hong Kong cinema, gathers an all-star cast (headed by Chow Yun Fat) for this lavish adaptation of co-writer and cast member Sylvia Chang’s play Design For Living. Whether they are gangster movies (Drug War), romantic thrillers (Blind Detective) or, in this case, white-collar workplace musicals, To’s films always dazzle with eye-popping costumes and production design that beg to be seen on the big screen. [Buy tickets]

Our Little Sister

I’m a fully paid-up member of the Hirokazu Kore-eda fan club (interviewing the man himself at the LFF two years ago was a festival highlight), so I’m already on board with this adaptation of a manga series about three sisters taking in a younger half-sister after their father dies. Expect the gentlest of gentle dramas, light on incident yet full of heart. [Buy tickets]


Park Lanes

Part of the fun of festivals is seeing films you almost certainly won’t find elsewhere. This year’s “Least likely to show up in your local Cineworld” prize goes to Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes, an eight hour long recreation (take that, Wiseman) of one day in the life of a factory that manufactures bowling alley equipment, which promises to offer an epic, intimate insight into the drudgery and social interactions at the heart of the American workplace. [Buy tickets]


Public House

Another South London story, Sarah Turner’s documentary reportedly bends genre conventions to tell the tale of the Ivy House in Nunhead, which was earmarked for redevelopment until the locals rallied around this pillar of the community, eventually turning it into ‘London’s first co-operatively-owned pub’. [Buy tickets]

Queen Of Earth

Frankly, I haven’t yet come to terms with the end of Mad Men. The only consolation is seeing Elisabeth Moss flourish on the big screen (see 2014’s sci-fi-tinged relationship drama The One I Love). This psychological drama, her second collaboration with writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), opened recently in the States and was greeted with uniformly positive reviews, praising in particular Moss’s performance as a woman on the verge of an emotional breakdown after a series of life-changing events. [Buy tickets]

The Room--(None)


I’m intrigued to see how Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel, told from the juvenile perspective of a boy brought up in captivity, will translate from page to screen, but what a dream team to handle the transition: director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did), Donoghue herself writing the screenplay, and Brie Larson in the lead role of a young woman striving to create a semblance of family life in the midst of a Fritzl-like confinement. [Buy tickets]

carol-1024_LRG (1)

Todd Haynes: Screen Talk

It’s hard to believe that Todd Haynes has only directed six feature films in his near 30-year career, most recently ending an eight-year break from the big screen with the instant-classic Carol. It will be a rare pleasure to hear him look back his small, perfectly-formed body of work, as well as his award-winning shorts and television work, in the LFF’s ever-fascinating Screen Talk strand. [Buy tickets]

When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli alert! The legendary Japanese animation house’s first appearance in the LFF line-up since The Cat Returns in 2003 comes with a bittersweet aftertaste, since this gentle gem from Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is, for now, Ghibli’s final release – so treasure it while you still can. [Buy tickets]

The Witch

Robert Eggers’ Sundance prize-winning Puritan-era horror became a must-see for me after David Ehrlich, in his fevered Time Out rave, called it “A jaw-droppingly bold gift from God… A major horror event on par with recent festival sensations like Kill List and The Babadook”. A creepy-as-hell trailer, released last month, cemented the deal. [Buy tickets]

Yakuza Apocalypse

I could easily pick out any of the LFF Cult strand’s Japanese Contingent (boasting new films from directors Hideo Nakata and Sion Sono) but I’ll plump for the latest from professionally-prolific powerhouse Takashi Miike: a vampire/mobster mash-up that’s sure to fit comfortably alongside his craziest work. [Buy tickets]

Toby Amies on The Man Whose Mind Exploded

13 Jul, 2015 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel

Ahead of the TV premiere of The Man Whose Mind Exploded, editor Michael Leader speaks with director Toby Amies about his fascinating documentary about the friendship he forged with the colourful but fragile Brighton-based eccentric Drako Zarhazar…

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

How did you first meet Drako?

When I first saw Drako he cycled past me – heavily made up, with facial piercings and tattoos, in a cape! A case of WHAT? WHO? WHY? As I’m sure the rest of the country is wearily aware, Brighton is an aggregator for wannabe eccentrics and needy show-offs, but Drako was the real thing, an original, unmatched and Kemptown’s King of the Queens. My first thought was “I have to know what the story is there”. As Drako put it “My career was on stage and now the world is my stage”. Fairly soon after I saw of him, a friend of mine David Bramwell was given some money by the Arts Council to make a film for his band to perform the soundtrack to and asked me to direct it. He took me to meet Drako as he was to be the star of the film, the Ballad of Oddfellow, which can be seen online still. When I met Drako he was most charming and wonderfully strange, and when I caught glimpses of his flat over his shoulder I was determined to know more.

At what point did you think about making a film about him? And what was it in particular that you were interested in – his eccentric personality, the specifics of his life with brain damage, or something else?

The filmmaking process was sort of organic, we started with the silent film and then I took some photographic portraits of Drako which led to pitching a documentary about his extraordinary biography to Radio 4. That became a programme for their It’s My Story strand which was nominated for the Prix Europa and produced by Sarah Jane Hall. When it came out several people approached me to talk about the possibility of turning it into a film, I think it’s because the radio documentary created such a vivid picture in people’s minds. Maybe people wanted to see just how many hundreds of cut-out and collaged willies Drako had in one small space… and now the Film4 audience has a chance to count the cocks! We are pretty sure it is a record-breaking number and had some interesting conversations with the BBFC, apparently the angle at which the member presents itself is crucial. When I started really getting into the nitty-gritty of the filmmaking process I had both Ross McElwee’s brilliant Sherman’s March and Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage as I wanted to make a movie that was acutely personal but also one that was a voyage of discovery, an exploration of what’s inside the mind.

One of my favourite show business maxims says that filmmaking is all in the casting, and even though at the time I’d never made a feature film before, it was clear that in Drako I had a superstar to work with. Initially the attraction had to do with his exotic, fascinating biography that included work with Salvador Dali, Gerard Malanga from Warhol’s Factory, and Derek Jarman, but that was rather dry onscreen and attention tended, as it does, to be drawn onto the celebrities. Drako had to be the star and my guide as to how to make the film. Once I’d done some filming, I took the trailer to various commissioners and rapidly realised that for the film to be made under the TV umbrella it would have to have been formulaic and possibly exploitative. Even though I was disappointed by the experience, I came out even more determined to make something that came out of a more gentle and sensitive process.

Drako's flat 2-poster

As you became closer to Drako, and started caring for him more directly, did your sense of the film you were making change at all?

Very soon my relationship with Drako was more than professional, it was a friendship, and I began to feel a responsibility to him that was greater then any need to place him in some preconceived narrative. I once heard someone being berated at a film festival by an old master: “You’ve broken the first rule of documentary making and fallen in love with your subject!” and I remember thinking “Fuuuck! that’s EXACTLY what I’ve done”, let’s see if it works… But also that is what the film is about for me, love and the pain of loving someone who doesn’t seem to care for themselves as much as you care for them and not being able to walk away and having to adapt your perception of the universe to accommodate theirs and being changed (hopefully for the better), as a consequence.

My beautiful sister Catherine, to whom the film is dedicated, was dying from Diabetes as I was making it, and  there was a shared dynamic between many of the conversations I had with her and those I had with Drako. The film explores the morality of giving people agency to make their own decisions about their welfare and destiny whilst examining the repercussions of doing so.

There is a point in The Man Whose Mind Exploded where the image quality becomes especially bad, and that to me identifies the point where the making of the film becomes less important than the very human friendship it records. The sweet spot, where life and art fuse in some very shaky camerawork. I suppose it seeks to document something invisible, the difficult bond between two people, carer and the cared-for and what that relationship means.

There came a point where I had to accept Drako’s philosophy and trust: absolutely and unconditionally that there was going to be a way of divining some kind of narrative meaning and story out of what was happening because what was happening took precedence, a lot of the filming was reactive as I was just trying to keep up!


Throughout the film, it’s clear that Drako doesn’t immediately remember you across your many visits. As he puts it, ‘you’re new every time’. What challenges did that present?

More than anything else it was just difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who’d forgotten about you. Even though I knew roughly how his mind worked it was hard not to be hurt that I was new to him every time, and it was extremely frustrating that the lengthy conversations we had about his care would go nowhere. I adored Drako but he was extremely stubborn. That all said when I started making the film I watched a superb documentary about Clive Wearing, who had a similar type of amnesia to Drako. Because of the repeated nature of his experience, Clive Wearing had a very short memory span of under 30 seconds, the documentary concentrates more on the experience of his wife Deborah who is an extraordinary human being and has gone on to write a memoir Forever Today on the subject. With her patient, forgiving and selfless example in the face of enormous difficulties in mind, I felt lucky the Drako I knew could communicate with me as much as he did over time. With regard to how it affected the film, it gave me the challenge and opportunity of having to present how it was entering Drako’s never-ending now. There was something hypnotic about visiting that place, and the artwork he created in it seemed to be designed both to remind everyone including himself who Drako was, but also it had a mesmerising effect, a sense that time stopped when the door shut.

What’s the story behind the nickname ‘Toby Jug’? 

It’s just another example of the mnemonics Drako would use to try and make something stay in his brain. Toby jugs are squat pottery vessels used to caricature people. There was sometimes a sense from that that Drako’s memory loss was not as consistent as you might expect, or even that he might have been regaining it a little. But he lived in a giant aide memoire, designed to do what his mind couldn’t, that’s the origin of the film’s title, as an invitation into his home was an invitation into his mind.

The Man Whose Mind Exploded premieres on Film4 on Thursday 16th July at 12.30am.

by Michael Leader

Michael Leader is editorial director of Film4 Online. As a freelance writer he's written for Sight & Sound and Little White Lies. Before joining the Film4 team, he worked for BAFTA.

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