Thursday, 14 July 2011

"The Immortals" - Documentary by Inka Achté

Not the best documentary I’ve seen pertaining to human cryopreservation, but not the worst either.

The documentary was arty, and definitely trying to make a point, and the point intended is that the subject is full of bittersweet beauty and meandering philosophical reflection, when this is about as true of a cryonics case as it is of CPR.

Scenes are interspersed with shots of gently wafting curtains, drops of water falling, etc. There is a soft, slow, tinkling musical refrain that comes and goes throughout, which while pleasant, suggests that we’re all dying more readily than we are; indeed, one may be forgiven for expecting to see a short text exposé at the end of the documentary, letting the viewer know when each of us died.

Unfortunately little attention to detail, such as spelling more people’s names incorrectly than correctly in the credits, which in and of itself is by-the-by, but I must wonder what else was given little attention.

Editing (so not sure for how much of this Inka was to blame as camera operator / director, and for how much of it the editor, Livia Serpa) left something to be desired in terms of objectivity. As an example, in one scene I am giving a group a tour of Cryonics UK's ambulance. Now, I started the tour with the various critical systems, and finished off with a small few odds and ends (washbasin, first aid kit, gloves for handling dry ice, etc), so deciding to clip down the scene, which part does she choose to show? You guessed it, the latter. So, after showing me ostensibly giving a tour ranging from the washbasin to the gloves, I ask the group if they have any questions before having a look around by themselves; there are not (because I was quite thorough), but the lack of questions makes it look like my talk from the washbasin to the gloves satisfied anything that anybody present might possibly want to know about the systems of the ambulance.

(For the record, what was missed out included the various power systems, refrigeration equipment, oxygen supply plumbing, spare oxygen cylinders, the portable ice bath, deployment mechanisms (ramp, tilt functions, winch, etc), multi-level security system redundancies (the system B to which we switch of system A fails, the system C after that, etc), but this was all skipped in favour of making it look like we're excited about having a sink and a first aid kit.

Interestingly, I am also shown priming the perfusion circuit, and for unstated reasons, she has adjusted the apparent ambient lighting, making what was actually a fairly well-lit clinic room (the same one you've perhaps seen in photos on the CUK website at ) look like a dark and mysterious place where I am demonstrating arcane equipment to a crowd of hushed onlookers.

Editing; judicious use of certain pieces of film, and juxtaposition of doleful scenes of cloudy skies and dull-looking houses, makes the three main featured interviewees look like impending death is the primary focus of these people, when in many ways quite the opposite is true.

I think it likely that much of this was an issue of confirmation bias; Inka had an idea of how she wanted the finished product to look, and then used every tool in the toolbox to create that image from what was filmed.

Compare and contrast with Murray Ballard's excellently objective photo documentary, all so recently. Other documentary makers have very high standards to reach to achieve what he has, in something that is objective, a real good-and-bad overview, that presents a very real feel of both the parts and the whole of the global "community" of this field, from pensioners in living rooms to medics in shiny hi-tech places, and much of what is in between, while being not only qualifying as art, but also being accurately informative, and an honest representation.

No, I'm not aware of Inka's documentary film being available on the internet at this time. It was produced for a film festival; I merely have the DVD.

Information about Murray's documentary can be found easily enough here: and the exhibition of his work remains open in Bradford for a couple of months yet.


  1. In the interests of fairness, I reproduce here (from Facebook) a response from Inka, and our ensuing exchange:

    Hi David!

    Thanks for the link to your review of my film. I just wanted to sincerely apologise if people's names were spelled wrong. This can still be corrected as the film has not as of yet been shown anywhere publicly. Would you be able to tell me where we made spelling mistakes so I could correct them? I feel that this is important (perhaps as someone myself whose name gets misspelled constantly) and I definitely do not want to disrespect anyone by misspelling their name.

    I also wanted to add that I have not adjusted the lighting at all in the shot of you using the perfusion circuit, and neither has the editor. As I remember, there is a window behind you in that shot, in front of my camera. When filming against light, the objects and people in front of the camera appear darker than they are. Also, cameras are not as sensitive to light as the human eye, so a lot of times what seems light for our eye, is still dark in a filmed image, especially when dealing with video. Real film is a lot more sensitive to light.

    I will not go on to discuss issues of objectivity in documentary film because it could easily turn into a book, but I would like to say that my attempt was to look at notions of body and "soul" and the film is intended as more of an exploration and reflection of those themes rather than an objective account on what cryonics is.

    Again, thanks a lot for all your help before and during the filming!

    All the best,

  2. Hi Inka!

    I'll add your feedback to my blog post, in the interests of objectivity (assuming you have no objection - I presume you'd rather have your case heard than not?).

    I trust my broadly negative review does not trouble you too much, as I presume it is far more important for you to please people within your field, than people within ours, which is quite understandable.

    As for the names, of the three people primarily featured, they are listed as (from memory):

    Mike Carter
    Chrissie Derivaz
    Steph Whitaker

    This should be:

    Mike Carter
    Chrissie de Rivaz
    Steph Whittaker



  3. Hi David,

    Thanks, I'll check the names today and correct them.
    I am not troubled by your comments, I understand everything you are saying. I suppose the only thing is that I would never want people I have filmed to feel misrepresented or unfairly treated and I am very sorry if you feel this has been the case. I think here it is a question of intention. You obviously want people to understand accurately how cryopreservation and UK Cryonics works, while my aim as a film maker is to explore and depict events in the world from my personal experience and point of view. That is how film making (even documentary) differs from journalism. I hope that if shown publicly, instead of making points or conveying information, my film arouses discussion and makes people think about their lives and how short they are and hopefully even makes them appreciate their lives more. Maybe our interests are therefore not entirely conflicted. Maybe some people would, then, become interested and curious about cryonics, too.
    All the best,

  4. Inka,

    I think that it is more a matter of our goals being diverged, than conflicting.

    I do feel that the documentary is somewhat a misrepresentation of things, but if you have represented your own viewpoint, then I'd agree that such is a different matter entirely. As I addressed in my original posting there, I did suspect this may be the reason for it.

    I think that you had some expectations, found things to confirm your expectations, and focussed on that slant. What you've produced, as a result, is something that from my view of the field is objectively rather far off-base; from an outsider's viewpoint, I can see how it is a perfectly compelling subjective truth, and I think you're right that your film if shown more publicly, probably will cause some degree of introspection in its viewers, and may indeed, as you say, cause them to appreciate their lives more.

    And that would be a good thing, because most people don't appreciate their lives nearly enough.

    Hell, I probably don't appreciate my life enough, and I'm often leading the way in the category of "life appreciation".

    I'm glad we've had this exchange!