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Cannes 2021 – Marché du Film

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Perception, inspiration and storytelling under the spotlight at Cannes


CANNES 2021: The panel, organised by impACT and MEDICI, was held at the Marché’s Marina Stage, and saw the participation of Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi and renowned neuroscientist Anil Seth

Perception, inspiration and storytelling under the spotlight at Cannes

On 9 July, impACT and MEDICI co-hosted a panel entitled “Consciousness & Creation” at the Marina Stage of the Cannes Marché du Film. The talk, moderated by MEDICI’s head of training, Tamara Tatishvili, tackled a difficult but fascinating question: what happens when a neuroscientist and a filmmaker get together to talk about storytelling? The aim of the discussion was to understand how scientific insights might inform the process of filmmaking, and how science itself can be guided by the arts.

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Thus, art and science met during this debate, the former embodied by Hungary’s Ildikó Enyedi, director of the Palme d’Or hopeful The Story of My Wife [+see also:
film review
interview: Ildikó Enyedi
film profile
, and the latter by Anil Seth, co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at Essex University.

To begin, Tatishvili introduced the speakers and touched upon the connections between inspiration and science, then tackled the first core question: why do some people want to become storytellers? Enyedi began talking about her early career steps and her work in an interdisciplinary art group, stating that she started making films “to touch people, pose questions and stimulate dialogue”.

Next, Seth (who attended digitally) spoke about perception. “We have this sense that we’re perceiving the whole world around us in rich or semi-rich detail,” he said, “but the focus of our attention is constantly darting around. In the cinema, everything else is reduced, as our attention is drawn by what’s happening on the screen.” There, for example, a small object like a cup, he added, is perceived differently from how it would be in our everyday life. Even the cinema experience itself is context-based and differs vastly depending on the culture we belong to.

Speaking about her own work, Enyedi explained that she sees three main levels of perception, the most superficial one based on shared social conventions (including new ones, such as “wearing a mask” or “do not shake hands”), whilst the deepest one is something more akin to Jung’s collective unconscious. With her films, Enyedi tries to unify these two worlds and, with her heroes, she attempts to help them express their suffering linked to being in a society where the clash between these two aspects results in a “cruel, damaging world”.

Seth found Enyedi’s tripartite take on perception highly fascinating and waxed lyrical about how film can do something that is not possible to reproduce in a lab environment, plus its power to explore this discomfort “as atomised individuals and as parts of a society”. Then, he spoke about the relationship between body and soul, and how this is perceived in different cultures. In particular, the body and its manipulation are set to become hot topics, he argued, owing to the rapid developments recorded in the field of VR. Through VR and someone’s embodiment, “we can start to understand how the brain constructs experience”. He also said that now, even while watching great films, “we know deep down that what we’re seeing is not true”. However, the developments of 360-degree filmmaking might shake up this paradigm. Finally, he stressed how both inspiration and consumption revolve around perception. In this respect, Seth quoted Cézanne by saying: “Colour is the place where brain and universe meet.” One may well wonder what the unforeseen medium- and long-term consequences of said technologies will be, and whether education could be a tool to limit the possible side effects.

The conversation was brought to a close by a short Q&A session.

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