In January 2015, a few weeks after completing his autobiographical memoir On the Move, Oliver Sacks learned that the rare form of cancer for which he had been treated nine years earlier had returned and that he had only a few months to live. A few weeks later, he sat down with director Ric Burns for a series of marathon filmed interviews in his apartment in New York. For eighty hours, across five days in February and on three more occasions in April and June – surrounded by family and friends, books and minerals, notebooks from six decades of thinking and writing about the brain –he talked about his life and work, his dreams and fears, his abiding sense of wonder at the natural world, and the place of human beings within it. He spoke with astonishing candor and clear-sightedness, a profoundly gifted 81-year-old man facing death with remarkable courage and vitality. He was determined to come to grips with what his life had meant and what it means to be, as he put it, “a sentient being on this beautiful planet.”
Drawing on these riveting and profoundly moving reflections, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life also features nearly two dozen deeply revealing and personal interviews with family members, colleagues, patients and close friends, including Jonathan Miller, Robert Silvers, Temple Grandin, Christof Koch, Robert Krulwich, Lawrence Weschler, Roberto Calasso, Paul Theroux, Isabelle Rapin, Billy Hayes, Kate Edgar, Mark Homonoff, Jonathan Sacks, Steve Silberman, Shane Fistell, Atul Gawande, and Lowell Handler, among others. The film also draws on unique access to the extensive archives of the Oliver Sacks Foundation. It is in part the biography of an extraordinary physician and writer who was dogged by his own neuroses and by the rejection of his medical colleagues but nonetheless redefined for millions of readers the nature of the human mind, through the simple act of telling profoundly compassionate stories. It is also a deeply illuminating exploration of the science of human consciousness and the nature of subjectivity, and a meditation on the deep and intimate relation between art and science and storytelling.
Tickets for the New York Film Festival are on sale now! We hope you will join us.
For those not able to make it to one of these screenings, stay tuned for further information on how you can see this extraordinary film celebrating the life of Oliver Sacks.
September is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. A study in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease found that memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that playing music often brings Alzheimer’s patients back to a temporary lucidity.
In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks said “for many of my neurological patients, music can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
September is also National Deaf Awareness Month. In this PBS NewsHour feature, Oliver Sacks talks about the Deaf President Now protest that took place in 1988 at Gallaudet University, a Washington D.C. school for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The protest kicked off when the Board of Trustees appointed a hearing person as the school’s president, instead of one of the highly qualified Deaf candidates. Students kept the campus shut down for a week, and the protest only ended with the appointment of I. King Jordan, the university’s first deaf president.