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Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Prods. has boarded the documentary Oliver Sacks: His Own Life about the late world-renowned neurologist. Vulcan is partnering with Steeplechase Films, American Masters Pictures, Motto Pictures, Passion Pictures and Tangled Bank Studios to produce the film about the man who authored such books as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, both of which were adapted for the screen.
Directed by Ric Burns (New York, Andy Warhol), the doc provides an exploration of human consciousness and the intimate relationship between art and science, as recounted by one of the greatest medical minds and humanists of our time. Burns leverages unique footage shot in the months before Sacks died in 2015, including more than 80 hours with the physician himself, his partner and his closest family, friends and colleagues, as he grapples with the meaning of life with extraordinary candor, power and humanity.
Vulcan’s Allen and Carole Tomko are executive producing, along with Motto’s Julie Goldman and American Masters’ Michael Kantor. The film dovetails with Microsoft co-founder Allen’s philanthropy in the area of brain science. Allen is the founder of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a recognized leader in large-scale research with a commitment to an open science model. To date, the billionaire philanthropist has contributed more than $500 million toward efforts to answer some of the most pressing questions in neuroscience.
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is currently in production and is slated for completion in early 2018.
“Oliver Sacks introduced us to remarkable patients who gave us a unique lens into neuroscience,” Tomko said in a statement. “Ric Burns is the perfect storyteller to turn the camera on Sacks himself, sharing the renowned physician’s last days. This production is another example of how we use storytelling to inspire people’s curiosity about the human condition and latest advances in science.”
Added Burns: “Oliver Sacks was an ecstatic voyager — a brilliant and intrepid researcher into the remotest and most inscrutable reaches of the human mind and experience — an explorer on a lifelong quest for consciousness, connection, understanding. His indelible work is situated at the crossroads of science, art and storytelling.”
Sacks artfully chronicled neurological case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience in his acclaimed books, including An Anthropologist on Mars, in which he described patients struggling to live with conditions ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, Parkinson’s, musical hallucination, epilepsy, schizophrenia, intellectual disability and Alzheimer’s disease. Awakenings, his book about a group of patients who survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early 20th century, inspired the 1990 Oscar-nominated film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
In January 2015, a month after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Sacks sat down for a marathon of filmed interviews in his apartment on Horatio Street in New York. For 80 hours, he talked about his life and work, his sense of wonder at the natural world and the place of human beings within it. These twilight reflections reveal the inner world of an extraordinary physician and writer who expertly dramatized the most strange and thrilling scientific and cultural frontier of our time.
Sacks was denounced as an “abomination” by his surgeon mother when he told her he was gay, and he fled from England to America in 1960. He finished a residency in neurology in California, and after five vagrant years of motorcycles, drugs and failed attempts at intimacy, he moved to New York, where in a ward of frozen, purportedly unreachable catatonics, he found his calling. Sacks went on to become an inspired and deeply empathetic clinician, chronicler and writer whose six-decade career would parallel and track the rise of modern neuroscience. He authored 15 books on a range of brain ailments and conditions, which were translated into 25 languages.
Vulcan’s credits include the Sundance Special Jury Award-winner STEP, Racing Extinction and the Oscar-nominated Body Team 12. It currently is in production on the modern-day slavery documentary Ghost Fleet.
American Masters recently produced Janis: Little Girl Blue and Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You.
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