Dutch/ UK co-production ‘Shock Head Soul’ selected for 68th Venice Film Festival

28 July 2011 • 

It was announced today that the Dutch/UK production SHOCK HEAD SOUL, directed by Simon Pummell and produced by Hot Property Productions and Submarine has been selected for the Orizzonti Competition at the 68th Venice Film Festival.

The film features a Dutch cast: Hugo Koolschijn is Daniel Paul Schreber, Anniek Pheifer his wife Sabine, Thom Hoffman and Jochum ten Haaf as the doctors who treat him.

Schreber was a successful German lawyer who, in 1893, started to receive messages from God via a “Writing Down Machine” that spanned the cosmos. He spent the next nine years confined to an asylum: tortured by delusions of cosmic control, suffering the belief that he was slowly shifting gender, and that his body was subjected to cruel ‘miracles’. Schreber believed that only his submission to God’s plan to change him into a woman would save the world. During this nine year confinement he wrote Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (original German title Denkwurdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken) which has earned him lasting fame as an outsider artist, and allowed him to argue that his belief system was a matter of religious freedom and that he was sane enough to return to society.

The film interleaves documentary interviews, fictional re-construction & CGI animation to portray Daniel Paul Schreber’s story. The film’s mix of forms crosses boundaries between documentary and fiction: exploring the borderline between religious vision and deluded fanaticism, and the intimate link between family secrets, psychiatric diagnosis, and our societal understanding of mental illness.

The film has been five years in the making, combining historical and psychiatric research with formal experiments to find a way to convey the different facets of the experience of psychosis through a cinematic language.

Biography Simon Pummell
Director Simon Pummell, is best known for his BAFTA (British Academy Award) winning 2003 transmedia project Bodysong: a depiction of an archetypal life, told using found footage taken from across the last 100 years of cinema, scored by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. He lives in The Netherlands, and is the Director of the Lens-Based Media Design & Communication Programme, Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy.

Pummell says: “When I first read Daniel Paul Schreber’s memoir, a record of his sufferings and bible of the secret coding of the world that schizophrenia had revealed to him, or possibly imposed upon him, I was fascinated, repulsed, inspired and moved. In Shock Head Soul the intertwining, and often conflicting, elements of documentary, drama, and animation make the audience thread together their own evolving points of view on both Schreber’s story and the relationship between technology and psychotic vision.”

Shock Head Soul is a transmedia project produced by Hot Property Productions UK and Submarine Productions NL, in association with Keith Griffiths, Illuminations Films UK and in co production with Serious Film NL, and supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Netherlands Film Fund and the Rotterdam Media Fund, with support from The Film Study Center at Harvard University. A research project affiliated to the lectoraat of Piet Zwart Institute Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University.