Thoughts on the silver screen

The annual Art and Brain Week will give the public a chance to enjoy lectures from leading scholars of the human brain.

A scene from the film Cousin (photo credit: PR)
A scene from the film Cousin
(photo credit: PR)
One sometimes hears soberly considered expressions such as “the thinking person’s painting,” or a description of some other area of the arts in such cerebral terms. That also applies to the cinematic field. Most, for example, would probably go along with the idea that Ingmar Bergman’s films stimulate a degree of gray-matter activity.
But when it comes to combining visual entertainment and intellectual pursuit, the annual Art and Brain Week event has most of them beat. For the past seven years, the event, sponsored by the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and based largely at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, has been incorporating discussion panels and lectures by leading academics in the brain research field, in conjunction with movie screenings, dance performances and even some humor, as part of International Brain Awareness Week.
The eighth edition will take place February 24 to March 3, kicking off at the Khan Theater with a lecture by Dr. Yuval Porat, who will enlighten his audience with a talk titled “A Glimpse into the Human Brain – The Science behind Mind Reading.” Porat’s learned musings on psychic abilities will be theatrically augmented by a performance of Eli Bijaoui’s Hebrew version of The Nether, by Jennifer Haley, directed by Aya Kaplan. The sci-fi drama looks into moral aspects of virtual reality in a world that is not too far removed from the here and now.
Fans of Winnie-the-Pooh might want to pop along to the Cinematheque on February 27 when Dr. Rony Paz, from the Neurobiology Department of the Weizmann Institute, presents a talk called “Evolutionary Pros and Traumatic Cons of Emotional Memories: Insights from Brain Networks.” Paz will touch on an area that is, unfortunately, all too pertinent in this part of the world – anxiety disorders. He suggests that natural emotional learning offers a clear evolutionary advantage, but might also lead to anxiety disorders/PTSD. The lecture will be followed by a screening of Simon Curtis’s film Goodbye Christopher Robin, which is based on the successes and battle-induced emotional scars of the creator of the lovable bear, A.A. Milne.
If you consider anything to do with brain research and delving into the obscure recesses of the mind as dry clinical stuff, you might be swayed to change your opinion by attending the February 25 lecture by Prof. Ariel Darvasi, from the Hebrew University’s Department of Genetics. Actually, “lecture” might be a little misleading as Darvasi’s “Who’s the Boss?” presentation is likely to elicit quite a few smiles, if not outright guffaws.
Darvasi’s spot will be preceded by a “more academic” address by Department of Medical Neurobiology lecturer Prof. Hagai Bergman, called “To Stimulate the Brain – To Cure the Soul.” Bergman will talk about methods of deep brain stimulation (DBS) currently used to provide better treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Bergman will take the discourse a little further by examining the DBS mechanism and researchers’ thoughts on future uses of the method for the treatment of a range of severe mental disorders. The evening will close with a screening of Greta Gerwig’s 2017 comedy-drama Lady Bird.
Darvasi says comedy is central to his professional ethos.
“When I give a lecture, I want my students to get something from coming to hear me talk. If they enjoy what they hear, there is a better chance they will be engaged and they will learn something.” Sounds pretty logical.
“It is going to be a sort of oxymoronic fusion of something serious and something funny,” says Darvasi about his forthcoming “stand-up lecture.” The event blurb explains that Darvasi will “tell the audience how Buddha, Darwin and Freud walk into a bar, and will check if we are open to discovering the existence of an entity that practically runs our lives and that isn’t our partner.”
The genetics lecturer says the stylistic crossover has proven its worth where it really matters.
“I use a lot of humor in my work. At the end of the school year, the students give their feedback and a very high percentage of them refer to the stand-up comedy element in my lectures. There are some who don’t think I’m funny,” Darvasi chuckles, “but most like it, and I do, too.”
Darvasi’s turn at the cinematheque won’t just be about dropping catchy one-liners. The members of the audience will get some eye-opening information along with the laughs.
“I have always included humor in my work,” he says. “It’s not an intentional technique for keeping people engrossed. It’s my natural way of doing things. The subject matter I will discuss at the cinematheque is, I believe, the most serious and fascinating scientific material there has ever been. I am, of course, very objective,” he adds with a self-deprecatory laugh.
The said topic incorporates perspectives of the conscious and subconscious.
“I’ll be looking at why we are who we are and why we behave in a certain way. It’s all about human behavior.” That sounds like a pretty expansive domain to delve into, and the lecture will feed off a course Darvasi gives at the Hebrew University.
“It is a very left-field course,” he says. “I limit the number of students because we get into intimate, personal things.”
The cinematheque address will, of course, not generate the same degree of intimacy, but Darvasi should provide his listeners with some insight into human behavior and probably with plenty of food for thought.
“In the course, I go through all the forms of behavior of the human species – relationships, anger, aggression, generosity, cooperation, parenthood, all the main forms of behavior we experience during our lifetime,” he explains.
At the end of the day, Darvasi says our level of cerebral functioning is programmed to achieve two basic end products – survival and reproduction. Naturally, there is an almost infinite number of nuances between those cardinal two goalposts. Darvasi will touch on some everyday situations in which we generally find ourselves and will expound on how we can handle ourselves in various predicaments.
I put it to him that, in fact, he is in a position of great influence vis-à-vis his students. They bring incidents that have happened to them to the course table, Darvasi and the class dissect them, and the students go away with a different perspective on the said event, and on how they might react in similar circumstances.
“I tell my students at the beginning of the course, that they will leave the course a different person. And that’s exactly what happens.”
Looks like an evening of fascinating edification and entertainment is on the cards at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Sunday. All events are in Hebrew.
For tickets and more information: (02) 565-4356 and, and