Interview with Toby Amies

Drako Zarhazar has what appears to be anterograde amnesia. He lives entirely in the present, unable to create new memories following two near-fatal road accidents. He is THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED. Filmed predominantly in his cave, haven, call it what you will, of a council flat, Toby Amies’ touching portrait follows ageing maverick Drak as he goes about his everyday life, or rather his every second. Anthony Davis spoke to Toby Amies following the screening at Cambridge Film Festival.

Anthony Davis: You were light on footage, and some said that you broke the first rule by falling in love with your subject – but, all this apart, what was your guiding light in both filming Drako and deciding what to include?

Toby Amies: Whatever felt most appropriate to the particular part of Drako’s life story that we were telling. I want the audience to be feeling what I was feeling, for my relationship with Drako to be one that they experienced subjectively, to make them feel and care for him, acutely, like I do. In many cases it’s about making sure we are laughing with him, never at him. I loathe exploitative documentaries/television.

AD: You wrote, ‘When you take someone’s portrait you have a choice to take a picture of someone being photographed, or you make a record of your relationship with them, which is what I do. That’s what my film is about.’

TA: Drako himself talks about – and the film poster quotes him – ‘two nervous breakdowns, two attempted suicides, and two comas – I’m in my seventh life now, and I love it all’. My experience of this film was of not wanting to know more about the suicide attempts, or the breakdowns (though you could probably tell me), but of the present with Drako, of seeing him live this life that he loves.

“I always loved the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE … and I originally thought in terms of exploring inside him.”

AD: We rarely see Drako outside his flat, which seemed like a TARDIS. Is it purely coincidental that this location proved to be the focus?

TA: As one of the taglines said, “when you enter his home, you enter his mind” and that’s one of the things the film is about. What is going on in that extraordinary, damaged and magical brain of Drako’s? The flat and its contents provide some clues and insight, and of course, context to his behaviour. I always loved the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE … and I originally thought in terms of exploring inside him. Metaphorically, obviously!

AD: There is a moment when you ask Drako what his feelings are about being filmed, and he says that he is ‘being used’. Were you taken aback by his frank appreciation of his role as a model or actor in a worldwide theatre?

TA: What is amazing about Drak is his ability to be absolutely himself, though he has been robbed of a large part of his memory. It’s one of the reasons he’s such a great person to work and film with. He’s very present, unashamed of himself and absolutely himself; that meant I could be absolutely frank with him. He’s not one to think terribly deeply before answering a question, but also usually comes out with a sage-like answer. If you commit to total honesty, then you are forced to live by your principles, and that allows you to be true to yourself. Plus he LOVED being on show!

“you can only really love someone once you can see the world from their point of view.”

AD: At times, the line between wanting a safe home and good health for Drako without disallowing him his own choices was fairly easy to respect. At other times, it must have been frustrating to feel that he would be too upset at change taking place. 

TA: My sister, to whom the film was dedicated, was losing her battle with type 1 Diabetes as I was struggling with Drako’s health and welfare issues. In both cases I came to a point of understanding that I had to accept and allow both individuals to live as they wanted to, no matter the consequence. The realisation I came up with [was] that “you can only really love someone once you can see the world from their point of view”. And anyway, if we can’t exert a positive influence on the ones we love then what is the point of being?

AD: Most of us would not want to be like Drako, but that he was so open and honest that we could love him for who he is. Was the whole greater than the sum of the parts for you?

TA: One of the guiding principles of the editing was for it always to feel real, for us to be as much as was possible there in the moment, so that we don’t feel we are watching a document, but experiencing, as much as possible, a reality. So for me, there is a direct link between what is onscreen, and what I went through. I like to work with people who have extreme points of view, as I feel I learn a lot in coming to understand those points of view. I don’t have to agree with them, but they stretch my horizons. Drako is unique, and no, though my house is very cluttered, and I have an unreliable memory, I don’t want to be him. But he has much to teach me.

AD: Finally, is there anything else that you would like to say about Drako, the film, and how you hope that it will be received ?

TA: Only that it’s a film that needs an audience and one that then needs that audience to help it find more attention. It’s literally home made, in a shed in my garden and without a marketing machine. I just hope that the people who see it and are moved by it will tell others, so that Drako’s extraordinary story can be seen and hopefully, enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Cover photo (c) Tom Catchesides

THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED  screens at the Duke of Yorks Cinema in Brighton on Wednesday, 27 November at 21.oo. It’s selling out fast – book tickets here or look out for future screenings here: http://www.themanwhosemindexploded.com/

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