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Unknown White Male

United Kingdom

Director: Rupert Murray
Topic: The disturbing saga of Douglas Bruce, an intelligent 35-year-old man who suffers complete retrograde amnesia, losing his identity and all of his memories literally overnight. With great dignity, Bruce struggles to learn as much as he can about his past, while experiencing all aspects of human existence — everything from familial love to the way ice cream tastes — for the “first” time.
Financing: Original funding came from England’s Channel 4; major financing then came from Wellspring and Court TV.
Budget: Approx. $900,000
Shooting format: “Virtually every film format,” says Murray, since the doc features archival footage from Bruce’s life, including Video 8, Super 8, standard 16 mm, 35 mm and DV. The mix of formats “reflects how we remember our lives,” says Murray, “sometimes fuzzy and atmospheric, sometimes vivid and intense.”
Why it stands out: Murray’s film works on many levels. It’s a medical mystery (doctors still cannot explain what happened inside Bruce’s brain), a family drama (we watch as Bruce “meets” his father for the first time) and a romance (Bruce falls in love with a woman who meets him after he loses his memory). It’s also a deeply philosophical work that forces viewers to examine the relationship between memory and personality.
Memorable scene: A moment both humorous and touching occurs when Bruce encounters snow for the first time since his memory loss. When he presses the snow between his fingers and sees how it compacts, he says under his breath, “Oh, I get it.”
Distribution/broadcast status: Released in Australia in September. Wellspring has acquired for U.S. theatrical release to begin Feb. 17. Court TV will broadcast in June.
On making the film: Murray and Bruce were close friends as twentysomethings living in London 15 years ago. When Bruce’s amnesia began, Murray “couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to find out what had happened to him, and how he felt about his new self.” He also was drawn to the idea that Bruce “was a 35-year-old man who had the mental facilities and language to describe these experiences that we all had as babies and children,” says Murray. “I wanted to communicate that kind of magic — the wonder of his rediscovery.”