Filmmaking on the edge of sanity: the story of The Man Whose Mind Exploded
Director Toby Amies tells Suzy Barber about the challenge of bringing the inner life of eccentric septugenarian Drako to screen in The Man Whose Mind Exploded.
When photographer and documentary maker, Toby Amies, set out to film Brighton eccentric, Drako Oho Zarharzar, he intended to reveal the day-to-day existence of a flamboyant, exhibitionistic septugenarian, living with an unusual brain condition.
What he didn’t bank on was how the documentary would evolve into a study of having to manage his own frustrations as he turned from filmmaker to carer.
Much of the film is shot in Drako’s flat; mainly due to the fact he rarely ventures outdoors.
Two severe road accidents in the 80s left him with a condition called anterograde amnesia, an inability to record thoughts and memories after the incidents happened. He now can’t remember one moment to the next, and so has filled his small, one-bedroom council flat with thousands of photos, cuttings, snatches of writing, cards and momentos, many hanging from the ceiling on bits of string, to act as aide memoires.
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The effect is of being inside the head of a man whose mind has exploded, hence the film’s title.
However, it soon becomes clear that Drako’s home is not just a living diary, but also a dangerous and filthy health hazard and it’s Drako’s failure to manage the mundane daily aspects of life that takes over the story.
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“My intention was to get a sense of how Drako accommodated his severe brain damage, to record someone with an extreme point of view because those people are the most fascinating to me,” says Amies. “But I had no idea how hard it would be. A lot of the film is about the conflict between us as I try to show him that his environment is not terribly healthy, and how I try to make it a bit more hygienic without disturbing what is essentially a work of art about his life.”
Drako’s poor mental health means he forgets everyday necessities such as washing himself, doing his laundry and taking his medication. And although friends and family visit, his condition makes it almost impossible for him to accept help. To throw the decrepit, dirty fridge away would mean altering the past he’s rebuilt around himself.
This could be depressing and voyeuristic, but instead it’s tender and fascinating. Amies’s careful camerawork rarely dwells on the squalor but focuses on the man himself who claims he couldn’t be happier. Drako lives each day by the words trust, absolute, unconditional, believing that if you live in the moment, which he can only do, you will experience unrivalled contentment.
“He’s an extraordinary combination of sage like wisdom crossed with total self-centredness, because the relationship can only go one way,” says Amies. “He can’t invest anything in you because he forgets who you are from one moment to the next.”
The special screening at the Arthouse, which features a Q&A with Amies, came about through actress and screenwriter, Kate Hardie, who’s a fan of the film and friend of Arthouse manager, Tom Barrie. Mind in Haringey was brought in as a charity partner of the event, due to the film’s subject and the Arthouse’s ongoing support of the mental health services charity.
“I absolutely hope the film raises awareness of the difficulties surrounding people with mental health impairment, and their families,” says Amies. “What I wanted to get across was the combination of frustration and acceptance that comes with this kind of situation, of wanting to care for someone but having to respect their wishes and to help them maintain their dignity. It wasn’t my intention to provide answers but to raise increasingly sophisticated and sensitive questions.
“I’ve learnt that all the good stuff happens in the brain of the audience,” he continues. “What happens on screen is like giving people a box of Lego bricks and leaving them to construct something, to make up a story which has meaning for them.”
Mind in Haringey offers affordable counselling, wellbeing workshops, advocacy and specialist youth services for the people of Haringey. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 8340 2474.
Tickets to see The Man Whose Mind Exploded are £10 and are on sale at arthousecrouchend.co.uk