When I started making THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED, I think it’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was doing. I had some experience of taking photographs and making documentaries for radio, and of making television that (like a lot of television) pretended to be documentary. But when it came down to it, I was a bit lost. Nonetheless, in my work I have always wanted to encourage you to feel what I feel, and cinema is the best way to do that.
Luckily, in Drako Zarharzar I had the most wonderful subject – and movie star, if you like. A long time ago I read an interview with a cinematographer who, when asked about his process for placing the camera, said, “I just point it at the story.” Drako is an extraordinary story, not only for his exotic biography – including working with Salvador Dalí and Derek Jarman – but also for his habit/curse of living “completely in the now”. It meant that when the camera was on him, that moment was everything. For me, that kind of immediacy, that newness, is rare in documentaries. I want to see something on screen that I recognise as human, but also something more than I can get in real life.
THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED is 100% independent creatively, and that allowed it to take shape in accordance with the experience of being with Drako. All too often documentaries need to pitch their whole story in order to attract funding, but by using the old-fashioned punk-rock principles of DIY, we were able to take a leap of faith with Drako – not presenting his story as a fait accompli, but discovering it along the way. That to me is a good part of what art is for: to actively ask questions of the universe, to enter into a dialogue with the world around us in order to reach understanding, if not always conclusive answers. So often in my discussions with Drako I would get to a point where what he was saying did not make sense to me, only for it to percolate through into meaning later. Sometimes it was like being in the company of a sage; at other times it was maddening. It’s no coincidence that he described himself as ‘philosopher’ on his passport!
THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED is unique because it was made in response to a unique point of view. It wasn’t made with any agenda other than to give the audience a true and immediate sense of what it was like to keep company with a highly unusual man and his ‘exploded’ mind. There have been lots of discussions about the ethics of making a film with someone who clearly has brain damage, but I suppose at the end of it all my sense is that, even with a clinical diagnosis of severe impairment, the world view of someone who has lost part of their brain is equally significant and useful as that of someone who is ‘normal’. Drako is not like the rest of us, but he is one of us. His example and perspective from the extremes of existence are of great help to those of us who spend most of our time in the middle ground.
Plus, if you’ll excuse my français, he is a funny motherf*cker.