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Oliver Sacks Movie Poster

On January 15th, 2015, a few weeks after completing his memoir, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks learned that the rare form of cancer for which he had been treated seven years earlier had returned, and that he had only a few months to live. One month later, he sat down with the producers for a series of marathon filmed interviews in his apartment in New York. For 80 hours, across five days in February – and on three more occasions in April and June in places in the Bronx – 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 with unflinching honesty – a profoundly gifted 81-year-old man facing death with remarkable courage and vitality who was still vigorous while facing the end. He was determined to come to grips with what his life has 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 twilight reflections, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life explores the extraordinary life and work of the renowned neurologist, clinician and writer. With unique access to the extensive archives of the Oliver Sacks Foundation, and featuring nearly two dozen deeply revealing and personal interviews conducted with family members, colleagues, patients and close friends, including Jonathan Miller, Robert Silvers, Temple Grandin, Christof Koch, Robert Krulwich, Lawrence Weschler, Roberto Calasso, Dr. Isabelle Rapin, Billy Hayes, Kate Edgar, Dr. Mark Homonoff, Jonathan Sacks, Steve Silberman, Shane Fistell, Dr. Atul Gawande, and Lowell Handler, among others. The film is in part the biography of an extraordinary physician and writer who “dramatized,” one man later said, “the most strange and thrilling scientific and cultural issue of our time: the nature of the human mind, through the simple act of telling 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.

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"One of the surprising and moving lessons of this revealing film is how often the most gifted people are unappreciated."

Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

"Burns’s documentary is a fitting and moving tribute to a man who never stopped wondering what it was like to be in the head of another sentient being."

Patrick Hipes, Deadline

"The heart of the film lies in the interviews that Burns conducted with Sacks himself, some in private and some with his friends and colleagues in attendance. When Sacks realizes his death is imminent and says his goodbyes to these long-term associates, the scenes are extremely moving."

Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Credits

Director
Ric Burns
Producers
Leigh Howell, Bonnie Lafave, Kathryn Clinard
Executive Producers
Paul G. Allen, Carole Tomko, Rocky Collins, Arthur Altschul, Julie Goldman
Christopher Clements, Michael Kantor, David Guy Elisco, Sean B. Carroll
Executive Producers
Sally Jo Fifer, John Battsek, Nicole Stott,
Co-Executive Producer
Greg Boustead
Co-Producer
Ingmar Trost