Presented in partnership with Cork Film Festival, Sunday November 13th, 1pm, Triskel Christchurch, Cork
In the last ten years, our lives have been increasingly lived online. We look to the Internet to support our social interactions, romantic adventures, professional identities, financial affairs, entertainment and commerce needs and a million other aspects of our day to day life.
Through a compelling programme of short film and discussion with psychologists and other experts, this event looks at the wonder and horror of the ubiquitous Internet and the impact it is having on us personally and collectively. In the films we follow characters who are searching – for love, connection, sex, truth, escape – in the digital world. Some find fulfilment, others are left frustrated or worse. From the heart-stopping to the heartwarming, these films will stay in your mind and lead you to pause for thought next time you log on.
Dr. Jurek Kirakowski is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Psychology at University College Cork. His main area of research is human-computer interaction – the study of the relationship between humans and the IT tools we create.
More speakers to be announced soon…
Bradley Manning Had Secrets (Dir. Adam Butcher)
The story of Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley), not as a Wikileaks ‘hacktivist’, but as a young American soldier simultaneously going through a crisis-of-conscience and a crisis-of-gender-identity. Animated in a rotoscoped pixel-art style and using dialogue from Chelsea’s online conversations, the film explores issues of personal and political secrets, digital identity and alienation.
Everyone Is Waiting for Something to Happen (Dir. Emma Calder)
Prior to being diagnosed with bowel cancer Richard Wright, an artist/animator, had a social media persona that was characterised by annoying and anarchic humour. After initially feeling unable to communicate at all, his healing process became entwined with the resurrection of his social media presence, helped by an obsessive regime of baking.
Players of Online Roleplaying Games reflect on their relationship with an intoxicating virtual world while going about their daily lives. In a surreal twist we encounter their ingame characters, inhabiting a banal urban landscape and providing a provocative visual backdrop to the unfolding thoughts of our virtual heroes.
Noah(Dir. Patrick Cederberg & Walter Woodman)
Told completely on a teen’s computer screen, Noah finds out the difference between a like and a love.
A Date With An Enfield(Dir. Adam Butcher)
A short, personal animation exploring nostalgia and place in the digital age. Every frame of the film has been hand drawn, creating a space where love, myth and Google Maps can intertwine.
Guy 101 (Dir. Ian W. Gouldstone)
A man hears a story about a hitchhiker from the other side of the internet.
On 28th April 2016 Rich Pickings teamed up with LOCO London Comedy Film Festival to present The Science of Laughter, a film and discussion event which assembled voices from the fields of neuroscience, psychology and comedy performance to discuss the nature of laughter, comedy’s therapeutic and social functions and its physiological effects. A screening of short films was accompanied by a panel discussion with:
Prof Sophie Scott: neuroscientist, comedian and Wellcome Trust senior fellow at University College London, researching the neuroscience of voices, speech, and laughter.
Dr. Caspar Addyman: lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and specialist in baby laughter.
Jamie Wood: acclaimed performer combining fine art, theatre, clown and dance, and ‘Giggle Doctor’ with Theodora Children’s Trust, visiting sick children in hospitals throughout the UK.
Nicola Hill: general manager for the MediCinemas at Guys and St.Thomas’ hospitals in London.
The panel was hosted by interviewer and occasional stand-up comic Rachael Castell. We filmed the discussion and you can see a lot of it in the video below. Scroll further down the page to watch some of the films which screened at the event, and to find links for further reading on the science and psychology of humour.
The short film programme that accompanied the discussion demonstrated a diverse range of comedy, from gentle rom-com to surreal humour, satire, mockumentary and gross-out comedy horror. You can watch some of the films below in full and others as trailers.
Kitty, Kitty Romford (Dir. Chris & Ben Blaine, Wr. Cariad Lloyd)
Mr Madila [trailer] (Wr. & Dir. Rory Waudby-Tolley)
Croissant (Dir. Louis Hudson, Wr. Ian Ravenscroft, Louis Hudson)
The Fat and Lean Wrestling Match (Wr. & Dir. Georges Méliès)
Ducks with Engines (Wr. & Dir. Big Red Button)
Coalition Fan Girls (Wr. & Dir. Charlie Dinkin)
Let’s Play Nomad X (Wr. & Dir. Kristian Andrews)
Friend Request Pending [trailer] (Dir. Chris Foggin, Wr: Chris Croucher)
Milk [trailer] (Dir. Ben Mallaby, Wr. Toby Williams, Paul F Taylor)
The Science of Laughter was presented as part of the Rich Pickings ‘Inside Out’ event series, with the support of a Wellcome Trust People Award.
On February 23rd, Rich Pickings teamed up with the Glasgow Film Festival for a screening and discussion event exploring the psychological and cultural contexts of conspiracy theories. A screening of Alan J Pakula’s ’70s masterpiece The Parallax View was followed by discussion with experts in conspiracy theory psychology and film theory.
Prof. Karen Douglas is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent. Karen studies the psychology of conspiracy theories and the social consequences of conspiracism.
Dr David Archibald is Senior Lecturer in Theatre, Film and Television Studies at University of Glasgow.
Karen Douglas shared her research and that of other psychologists and social scientists working in the area, while David Archibald spoke about the ways in which conspiracy theories have been treated by cinema, and how we respond to these stories. Below is an edited transcript of some of the discussion. A fuller audio recording can be listened to at the bottom of this post, where we also list links for further reading on the topic.
Karen, can you tell us about your area of research?
KD: I’m a psychologist, so I come at things from an empirical and usually experimental angle. I am really interested in why people believe conspiracy theories, why they resonate with so many people. Of course conspiracies do happen but nevertheless people vary a lot in how much they believe conspiratorial explanations as opposed to official explanations for events.
I am also interested in how influential conspiracy theories are, so how much they can change people’s opinions about events, and also what some of the social consequences of belief in conspiracy theories might be, especially when they relate to things like climate change, vaccination and trust in the government.
How would you define a conspiracy theory?
KD: In the literature I read it is usually defined as a secret plot by powerful groups to cover something up. Usually these alleged conspirators don’t have positive motivations. They’re not doing things for good, they’re doing things for evil, sinister purposes.
Is there a personality type that is more drawn to belief in these theories?
KD: Research has suggested that there are certain personal characteristics that might attract people to conspiracy theories. I am moving away from that in my own research because I tend to think it can pathologize people who believe in conspiracy theories a little too much. There are characteristics that have been linked to heightened conspiracy belief – things like paranoia, mistrust, low agreeableness, highly Machiavellian people…. but this paints quite a negative picture and I think maybe we need to think a bit more about positive characteristics about people that might attract them to conspiracy theories as well…
One of the things that you do come across is that the explanations for things that happen tend to become so nebulous that they can become closed off from any evidence from the official account or other perspectives – so it can become a closed mindset.
David, do you think this is reflected in conspiracy cinema?
DA: I’m going to start by mentioning a film I watched last night by a Chilean filmmaker called Patricio Guzmán. The film was called The Pearl Button. He also made famous films Nostalgia For the Light and the trilogy Battle for Chile about the Chilean coup by Pinochet that overthrew the Allende government. That’s a conspiracy film about how the CIA backed the forces that overthrew a democratically elected government. In cinema there’s lots of films that look at issues like that. And it surfaces in the United States in 1982 when a non-American filmmaker, Costa-Gavras, makes a film called Missing, where Jack Lemmon plays a man who is trying to find his son and is up against the Powers That Be to try and get to the truth of things. So I suppose my starting point is that power definitely camouflages what it does, and bad shit happens. What’s interesting is why these points emerge at certain moments historically. In the ‘70s and ‘80s in the United States there is a plethora of these films, asking questions of truth and trust. This film [The Parallax View] is really Kafka-esque. What’s interesting is why this moment arrives in a place which is regarded as a democracy. And I think that’s to do with how we understand truth and whether we trust the people we elect – for instance in the ’70s, on the back of Vietnam and post-JFK.
The film JFK, directed by Oliver Stone in ’91, is a really fragmented film. It uses footage of the actors playing out what’s going on, archive footage of what happened, footage which looks like archive but is actually actors… it looks at the past and depicts the past by saying that the past is all these different assemblages of different formats. It’s hard to get to the truth of the past… the film deliberately plays around with what’s real and what’s not.
Karen, do you think that the idea of getting a complete story with a beginning, middle and end might have something to do with why we are drawn to conspiracy narratives?
KD: I think so… some psychological research would suggest that a state of uncertainty is a very aversive state – nobody wants to be unsure. Conditions of uncertainty, and people who are predisposed to feel generally uncertain, tend lean more toward conspiratorial explanations because they do at least provide an explanation.
DA: I think there is a breakdown in how we, and history, understands truth. In the last 30 years there has been a critique by academic historians of the idea that we can have objective accounts of the past. And there is a prevalence of the idea that all we can get by looking at the past is subjective accounts.
So if you present someone with a counter-narrative which disproves a conspiracy theory, people can just say “well that’s just another story… all accounts of the past are just stories and one doesn’t have primacy over the other.” And in the philosophy of history that idea has quite a bit of currency. So these ideas which circulate in philosophy can have an impact on why people support ideas which don’t appear to be substantiated by evidence.
Audience question: The film portrays the High State assassinating political leaders. But if you look at the history of the last 30 years here, there is a whole raft of conspiracy and collusion between the state, corporations, the police etc… the Saville case is a great example of it. Maybe the film isn’t conspiratorial enough, because looking at recent history people are now thinking that the state is just utterly corrupt with regard to its delivery of justice.
DA: There’s a very interesting film called Hidden Agenda directed by Ken Loach, about collusion between British secret services and Loyalist paramilitaries. And at the time [of release] that was ridiculed for being a conspiracy. It’s now recognized that it is pretty accurate, though fictionalized… in the last year the story is that there was also collusion between British paramilitaries and the IRA. I think there is a breakdown of in trust in politicians in Britain… so that’s another reason why people are prepared to accept the counternarratives.
Audience comment: The term ‘conspiracy theory’ has negative connotations. Some people would regard me as a conspiracy theorist, but I’d regard myself more as a critical thinker. So if you’re presented with something, you question it. A conspiracy theory is only a conspiracy theory until it becomes the truth.
KD: I agree that the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is quite pejorative and unfairly so. One of the main problems is that anyone who believes in any kind of conspiracy tends to be lumped in with the David Icke, lizard people, extreme sort of thing.
One interesting thing psychologically is that if someone is inclined to believe in one conspiracy, they’re also inclined to believe in others. I think this is one of the reasons why research has been pointing the finger at certain individuals who might be quite likely to opt for the conspiracy theory – the image of strange, paranoid type who will believe anything. I do think that is unfair and more research needs to be done to focus on more positive aspects, such as critical thinking and creativity, which might lead to people entertaining conspiracy theories.
Another factor is that on some level we are all predisposed to think that conspiracies happen, because from an evolutionary perspective it’s not very adaptive just to blindly trust and not to think that there are threats in the environment – that people are against us. If you see a predator but don’t imagine its intentions might be to kill you, you might not be able to run away and save yourself. So from a psychological perspective, being sensitive to the idea that there is agency out there and things happen is not an entirely irrational way to think about the environment – and people who show a tendency to over-attribute agency tend to go for conspiracy theories as well.
DA: I think there is something potentially paralyzing, faced with the idea of the Kafka-esque ‘dark state’, because you can’t beat it. If the Crusading White Journalist [in The Parallax View] can’t do it, that kind of closes down dissent. That would be my critique of the film. Although it shines a light on something it also says that the machine is impossible to defeat – step out of line and you’ll be crushed. So you feel more powerless. You narrativize it, get a handle on it but say “nothing can be done because the powers that be are too well organized”.
There’s no shortage of organised conspiracy. Until 1970 the kids in Spain were taught, in the state education system, that Guernica was the work of Spanish anarchists. So organized power definitely does stuff that we don’t know about. History tells us that. But for me it’s nothing like on the all-encompassing scale that is presented in this film.
Audience question: Do you think that when popular figures like JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana – people who people identify with – die, that this helps conspiracy theories to snowball?
KD: Possibly. Definitely with the death of someone very important to people, if the explanation for their death is not proportional to the event itself it can seem insufficient. For instance if Princess Diana got in a car, the driver was drunk, he drove to fast, the car crashed – that’s very mundane. And the sheer volume of people who loved her won’t necessarily accept that. And you could match that up with various types of conspiracy theories. In the 9/11 attacks the official explanation is, while not mundane, fairly simple. The conspiracy theories aren’t, and sometimes people find them more satisfying. And I guess that’s due to the proportionality of the event.
Audience question: I’d like to ask about gender and conspiracy theory. The Parallax View felt like a very male film.
DA: You’re right, the film is totally male. It’s not only that there are lots of men in it doing Western-type fighting, but I’d argue that even its form is masculine – dark shadows, those beautiful elevator shots. I wonder whether men are more attracted towards conspiracy theories?
KD: I don’t know that they are. If you think about the prototypical person who believes in conspiracy theories, you tend to think of American middle-aged men, and if you read conspiracy discussions, those are the people that tend to appear. But in my research I have participants of both gender and I don’t find a great deal of difference between the genders in terms of how much they believe standard conspiracy theories. We usually give them a scale to rate agreement with a variety of different, quite well-known conspiracy theories and don’t really find gender differences. If anything, women tend to go for conspiracy theories more than men. Not necessarily significantly so, but that’s the trend – so that goes against the stereotype of the conspiracy-thinking male.
Audience question: Are there any differences socio-economically?
KD: Older people tend to believe conspiracy theories less than younger people, people with higher levels of education tend to believe conspiracy theories less. I’m not so sure about socio-economic status. Religiosity predicts conspiracy belief. This is just a standard system of getting people to answer on a 1-7 scale, and it’s all correlation, so it doesn’t mean for instance that religiosity causes conspiracy belief. But those relationships are there.
The way that psychologists and political scientists tend to quantitatively measure belief in conspiracy theories is by asking participants to rate agreement with certain well-known conspiracy theories. Other scales rate a more general tendency to believe in conspiratorial explanations, so you might say ‘governments act behind the scenes against the best interests of citizens’ or ‘powerful corporations hide information from the public’. And you tend to find that people who score high on one of those types of scale also score high on the other, so a lot of people feel it’s more of a general mindset.
Is there other research that people can look at if they want to know more about the psychology behind conspiracy theories?
KD: Yes, there’s a book called Suspicious Mindsby researcher Rob Brotherton about the psychology of conspiracy, which is really accessible and gives a very broad overview of what we know so far. There are other disciplines that study conspiracy theory belief as well – quite a few people in political science study conspiracy theories in a quantitative way like a psychologist would do, including Oliver & Wood and Joe Uscinski. But it’s also dealt with in all sorts of other disciplines: cultural studies, sociology, film studies, literature.
David, what are your top conspiracy theory films?
DA:JFK may be the most interesting. People like it for all sorts of different reasons: for its impact, because it questions, because it suggestions that the past is complicated and fragmented, not a closed world. Missing is a good film. It’s an interesting film because it’s the United States dissenting against its own foreign policy. If you look at the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s there is no shortage. Hidden Agenda, the Loach one, is slightly different and it’s a bit of a thriller.
Another point is that one of the reasons that conspiracy theories circulate is because they’re stories. We understand the world we inhabit through the use of stories. Conspiracy theories lend themselves to good cinema because, whether or not you agree with the politics, it’s a good story. Hollywood excels at stories of an individual up against powers. In classical Hollywood they tend to overcome them, following the classical path of antiquity in terms of drama. Someone is faced with a series of obstacles, overcomes them and lives happily ever after. Conspiracy stories often don’t follow that narrative. They’re interesting because they unsettle the traditional Hollywood triumph over adversity narrative. But there’s something there that gives us another kind of satisfactory story, even if you come away thinking “that’s really unsettling, but I understand it”.
Audience question: Could you talk about how cross-cultural conspiracy theories are? We’ve mostly talked about Europe and America.
KD: Absolutely, different countries have different conspiracy theories for different reasons. It’s a real flaw in terms of the type of research that I do that it’s mostly done in countries like Britain, the United States, Australia. I’m working with a Macedonian student at the moment who argues that things are really different over there, it’s a different political climate and that people who are very left wing would be more likely to believe conspiracy theories against their government than you would expect to be the case here. So we’re looking at a possible cross-cultural difference between a British and Macedonian sample in terms of the psychological factors that predict conspiracy belief. But there isn’t a lot of that research done yet.
Historically is this tendency to see and believe conspiracy theories new or does it go back throughout history?
KD: I think some psychologists would say that it’s a general tendency and people are wired to believe in conspiracy theories, it’s something that has always been with us and always will be. There was an analysis done fairly recently in which Joe Uscinski looked at letters to the New York Times from the 1800s to now, looking for instances of the word ‘conspiracy’ and various related words. He expected to find great big peaks at crucial times in history, but didn’t find this. So he argues that conspiracy theorizing is something we have always done and will always do.
DA: That’s interesting – so you might argue that there’s a constant in terms of what people believe, but you can certainly detect trends in culture where this seems to have prevalence, to surface and have more purchase.
KD: Another thing is that a lot of people assume conspiracy theorizing is on the rise because of the fact that people use the Internet now. But again people aren’t find a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Internet is entirely responsible for any spike in conspiracy theorizing. Nevertheless it is easy for people to share ideas, so maybe it changes the way that people think and talk about alleged conspiracies.
DA: It’s also created the conditions where someone can cut up footage from the news and put an alternative account of the past on the Internet. So people have got the capacity to construct a narrative and put it out in the public domain, which has got the potential to reach everybody on the planet – even if in reality it might get four hits.
Is it possible that film, with its impression of indexical, recorded truth-telling and it’s huge potential for manipulation of footage and meaning, isn’t a reliable format for getting to real truths anyway?
DA: I’m not sure about that. The Chilean films directed by Guzmán are canonical works of truth-telling about what happened in Chile in 1973 – unquestionably useful for countering the narrative presented by those in power, through the use of archive footage. Of course Hollywood is a dream machine which constructs lies, but nevertheless there is some kind of truth we can get, certainly in documentary and non-fiction cinema, and sometimes even in fiction.
28 April 2016, Barbican Cinema 3, 8.30pm. Tickets: here. In partnership with LOCO London Comedy Film Festival.
This short film programme and panel discussion assembles a range of voices from the fields of film, neuroscience, psychology and comedy to discuss the nature of laughter.
A screening of comedy shorts is followed by a discussion investigating comedy’s therapeutic and social functions and its physiological effects.
Prof Sophie Scott is a neuroscientist, comedian and Wellcome Trust senior fellow at University College London, researching the neuroscience of voices, speech, and laughter.
Dr. Caspar Addyman is a lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and a specialist in baby laughter. He is also the author of Help Yourself, a novel about a failed stand up comedian.
Jamie Wood is an acclaimed performer combining fine art, theatre, clown and dance. He also works as a Clown Doctor with Theodora Children’s Trust, visiting sick children in hospitals throughout the UK.
Nicola Hill is the general manager for the MediCinemas at Guys and St.Thomas’ hospitals in London. MediCinemas offer patients a cinema experience whilst accommodating wheelchairs and hospital beds and providing medical supervision during screenings.
Panel hosted by interviewer, presenter and occasional stand-up comedian Rachael Castell.
Friend Request Pending (12 mins, Dir. Chris Foggin, Wr: Chris Croucher)
A short comedy drama about the mature generation dating in our modern social networking world. It’s a tale of love but more importantly life-long friendship
Croissant (2 mins, Dir. Louis Hudson, Wr. Ian Ravenscroft, Louis Hudson)
Don’t you just hate it when you get food on your face and your entire concept of reality crumbles?
Coalition Fan Girls (3 mins, Wr. & Dir. Charlie Dinkin)
One Direction, Justin Bieber and…David Cameron??? A startling glimpse into the hidden lives of some of Britain’s most dedicated, driven and obsessive teenage fans. This time: it’s political.
Ducks with Engines (1 min, Wr. & Dir. Big Red Button)
Does what it says in the title. Ducks. With engines. Any questions?
Mr Madila (4 mins, Wr. & Dir. Rory Waudby-Tolley)
Mr Madila or The Colour of Nothing documents a series of conversations between the film-maker and a gifted spiritual healer, exploring the inner mind, the fabric of the universe, and the nature of reality itself, through the sacred art of animation. Oooooooh
Let’s Play Nomad X (3 mins, Wr. & Dir. Kristian Andrews)
During a ‘Let’s Play’ review of his favourite ’90’s computer game, a man tells a story of heartbreak .
The Fat and Lean Wrestling Match(2 mins,Wr. & Dir. Georges Méliès)
An extremely lean man and an extremely fat man are engaged in a wrestling match in this 1900 classic by filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès.
Kitty, Kitty Romford (3 mins, Dir. Chris & Ben Blaine, Wr. Cariad Lloyd)
Kitty, Kitty Romford is having a tough day, she’s just an ordinary dame, but her boss won’t get off her back and she’s inner monologuing out loud again…
Milk (10 mins, Dir. Ben Mallaby, Wr. Toby Williams, Paul F Taylor)
Timothy and Raymond have run out of milk.
Presented with support from a Wellcome Trust People Award.
Life after Life was a short film and discussion event presented by Rich Pickings at London Short Film Festival 2016. The event examined the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and how they can affect people’s lives. It featured a programme of short poetic films about life, death and what may or may not lie beyond. These films were a jumping off point for a discussion with two guests with very different approaches to the subject.
Christopher French is Professor of Psychology and Co-coordinator of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. French presented scientific research around NDEs, looking at recurring patterns in people’s accounts and biological explanations for the experiences people report. He particularly focused on the out-of-body elements of the NDE, as this is one of the more measurable and replicable components common to the experience.
Raymond O’Brien experienced a NDE during a cardiac arrest five years ago, an incident that profoundly affected him. Since this time he has experienced huge highs and lows, and the experience has become a core part of his identity and his understanding of the world. O’Brien was generous enough to share his experience and interpretation of it with us, offering a unique insight into the subjective reality of an NDE and life following it.
Watch an edited video of the discussion with Christopher French and Raymond O’Brien:
The programme of short films included animation, documentary and experimental moving image. Real life and fictional accounts of NDEs painted a vivid picture of the fear, regret, acceptance, love and transcendence that a person may experience in the moment of their death. Some of the films which played at the event can be viewed below.
In Crossing Over: The Art of Jeremy Down, an artist takes us on a visceral journey through his brush with death, an unforgettable narrative set against an astonishing landscape.
Annlin Chao’s Phantom on the Cliff is an animated account of a mountaineer struggling to come to terms with the mental and physical scars he is left with following a climbing accident.
In Impact, A Boxer’s Story, a boxer who was almost killed in a car accident describes how his experience and faith gave him the strength to not only recover but to excel as a fighter.
Out of Body, by visual artist Susan Aldsworth, uses recurring themes in recorded accounts of NDEs to paint a vivid picture of what the experience can feel like.
Coda, by Alan Holly, is a captivating, poetic animated tale of a man who confronts death – bargaining and resisting its grip before finally releasing himself into its care.
Danny Agama’s Mother and Void is a compelling artist film in which trees shot from a train window come to resemble blood capillaries as the filmmaker reflects on a childhood near death experience and on the nature of life and death.
Moving The Giants, by The Story Group, is an uplifting documentary following a man who, following a near-fatal illness, finds a strong purpose in his life – to save and replant the mighty Redwoods of California.
A screening of ’70s masterpiece The Parallax View and discussion with experts in conspiracy theory psychology and cinema.
The Parallax View (Dir. Alan J Pakula, 1h38m, Cert 15)
Newspaper reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) begins investigating the assassination of a presidential candidate from several years ago, and is drawn into a dangerous world of conspiracy and cover-up. Going undercover and assuming a new identity, he finds himself at the centre of a new and terrifying plot.
The screening of this ’70s paranoia classic will include a panel discussion on some of the themes in the film and its social, political and creative context.
Speakers include Prof. Karen Douglas, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, who studies the psychology of conspiracy theories and the social consequences of conspiracism as well as Dr David Archibald, Senior Lecturer in Theatre, Film and Television Studies at University of Glasgow.
January 16th 2016, 5pm, Institute of Contemporary Arts. In partnership with London Short Film Festival. Book here.
“I was sat with my legs through railings on a bridge that hung 30ft above a stream, when the coach smashed into me and crushed me through the bars like play-doh. The pain should have been immense, but I wasn’t in my body, I wasn’t the one laying on a ledge, bleeding, precariously rolling ever so slowly toward my death – I was on the other side of the road watching it unfold. Watching people run, shout, scream and drag me to safety. Then I was there…”
Life after Life is an event about near death experiences and how they affect people’s lives. We’ll explore the experiences of those who have been on – and beyond – the edge of death and lived to tell the tale.
The event will include a programme of short poetic films about life, death and what may or may not lie beyond, as well discussion with speakers including Christopher French, Professor of Psychology and Co-ordinator of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London and Raymond O’Brien, whose experience of an NDE during a cardiac arrest profoundly affected him.
Impact, a Boxer’s Story
Dir. Keith Rivers, 2015, 05:23
A tragic incident stalled Malagamali’l D’hue’s career in boxing. Impact follows the story of his fight to persevere and demonstrates that strength we can find in our idols.
Crossing Over: the Art of Jeremy Down
Dir. Mike Bernard, 2012, 12:06
Jeremy Down is an artist who derives his inspiration from the mountains and lakes around his home. A narrow escape from drowning while out painting in his canoe induced a near-death experience that would change his approach to painting as well as living.
The Phantom on The Cliff
Dir. Annlin Chao, 2014, 08:58
A rock climber struggles with the memory of an incident in his past, in this stop-motion story about loss, gain and hope.
Moving The Giants
Dir. Michael Ramsey, 2015, 10:46
Produced by The Story Group and Spoken Image, Moving the Giantsfollows David Milarch as he clones some of the world’s most ancient and largest living things – California’s coastal redwoods – and replants them in Oregon. Milarch, an arborist from Michigan, had a near-death experience that launched a radical restructuring of his life with a goal to harness trees’ incredible life force to generate healing and change.
Out of Body
Dir. Susan Aldsworth, 2008, 03:23
A short film about a near death experience directed by Susan Aldworth, editing and sound by Barney Quinton. In this film she uses a series of monoprints based on the visual imagery of brain scans to document bursts of activity in the brain. The piece revolves around the uncanny parallels found in the personal testimonies of those who have experienced ‘near-death’. Aldworth is an artist whose recent work focuses on the brain and human consciousness.
Dir. Alan Holly, 2013, 09:00
A lost soul stumbles drunken through the city. In a park, Death finds him and shows him many things.
Mother & Void
Dir. Danny Agama , 2015, 02:20
This visual and audio landscape piece echoes a child’s near death experience while presenting the scenery and capillaries of Michigan during winter.
Supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award.
Featured image and Out of Body image: Courtesy of Susan Aldworth and GV Art gallery, London. 2008.
Rich Pickings is pleased to announce Inside Out – a new series of science and film events set to take place throughout 2016. Supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award, these events will bring filmmakers together with scientific researchers in evenings of film and discussion exploring elements of the human experience.
Partnering with innovative film festivals across the UK, Rich Pickings will showcase new, classic and archive short and feature film. Each event will tackle one compelling theme relating to the human experience and explore it in discussion with academic experts, artists and filmmakers. Events will be documented and shared through the Electric Sheep film website. Event themes include near death experiences, compassion and the science of laughter.
Events include collaborations with London Short Film Festival, LOCO London Comedy Film Festival and Glasgow Film Festival among others. Filmmakers will have the opportunity to submit short films and moving image artwork for inclusion in events. Full event details and calls for entry will be announced on this site.
In this short event at Encounters Film Festival, PhD candidate Stephen Hinde and Iain Gilchrist from University of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology asked what the eyes can tell us about the way in which we watch and understand films.
Hinde began by outlining a short history of the field of psychocinematics, beginning with Munsterberg’s 1916 writing on ‘The Photoplay’ and moving through Eisenstein’s work in the 1940s towards theorising eye movements in film viewers. He discussed Hochberg & Brooks work in the 1970s on the Perception of Films and more recent work on film cognition, edit blindness and immersion.
Using a range of static and moving image examples, Hinde then demonstrated how our eyes interpret images and editing and how we build our understanding of story through this. He showed that our eyes do not necessarily work in the way we intuitively believe them to – we are largely unaware of where we are looking and what we see, as our focus is on the overall perception that we build from looking at a variety of points often in quick succession. With examples, he showed that when we are staring at one point, everything around it becomes visually indecipherable – a fact we forget in the day to day act of looking. In addition to this, Hinde showed how ‘saccadic suppression’ allows the brain to block visuals that are received during eye movements, only processing visual information received when the eye is settled and ‘looking’ at something.
Hinde also used the example of Joe Magee’s short film Modifried, screened as part of Encounters’ Depict! Award 2014, to demonstrate with eye-tracking software how the eye moves across the screen when watching a film. Magee, also speaking at the event, discussed how he as a filmmaker considers an audience’s visual and cognitive interaction with a film when storyboarding, shooting and editing.
The full film with audio can be viewed on the Depict! website, and below it can be seen in silent with eye-tracking data overlaid to show the way in which the eye is drawn to different areas of the screen throughout the film.
MODIFRIED with eye-tracking data overlaid
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hinde showed that as viewers our eyes are drawn to images of people, primarily to their faces and specifically their eyes. We are also drawn to follow movement – a fact that all film editors must instinctively know.
Hinde discussed how the quality of a viewer’s immersion could be measured, including the measurement of ‘presence’. A high level of presence would mean that perceivers feel that they are “in the situation” depicted on screen, while low presence indicates a feeling of merely observing the events unfolding on screen. However, presence can be difficult to measure scientifically. It is usually measured in a questionnaire after the viewing experience, which means that it can be difficult to get reliable and detailed data. Another approach is to ask participants to provide a series of marks throughout the viewing experience to indicate their varying levels of presence throughout.
Hinde’s presentation was followed by a Q&A, where he was joined by Prof Gilchrist and Joe Magee, who brought their perspectives on the subject.
Stephen Hinde is a Film and vision psychologist with a polymath background in physics and computer science. Academic qualifications include: a BSc. in psychology from the University of Bristol, an MA in Buddhist Studies from the University of Bristol, and a BSc in Physics from University of Sheffield. Industry experience in USA, France and UK in high performance Cloud computing sytems for media processing as a researcher at Hewlett-Packard Research Labs, and Operating System design at IBM. Hinde has worked for Bristol-based film and media companies such as Watershed, Aardman Animation and South-West Screen. He also worked as a Research Collaborator in the School of Experimental Psychology with Professor Tom Troscianko at Bristol University before enrolling in the same school to undertake a doctoral course.
The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916) by Hugo Munsterberg. Freely available as an e-book on The Project Gutenberg.