Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.
FIRST PRIZE | Quantum Shorts 2022
A student grapples with his father’s health crisis at a distance. Director Prasanna Sellathurai uses quantum entanglement as a metaphor for human connection.
“For experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in 2022 to Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger. Read about more about it here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2022/press-release/
Please tell us about yourself and the team that made the film.
The team consists of four people: me; my friend Richard Dyer – we did physics together at Durham University; cinematographer James Lahaise, who I met on Instagram, and in person for the first time at the shoot; and my close friend Mehzeb Chowdhury who is the colourist.
Since graduating, I’ve been working as a director’s assistant. I’ve been the assistant to Charlotte Regan, Alfonso Cuarón and Marc Munden. In my free time, I’ve been directing films. This project was a wonderful combination of my interests.
How did you come up with the idea for your film?
Our film discusses a physics student whose father had a car accident. When I was doing my degree, that happened to me. It is a very surreal time when you are going through experiences like that and we were trying to find different ways to communicate it effectively in film. For us, the analogy of quantum entanglement was a perfectly apt one to use because when you have somebody you care about going through something traumatic, time is perceived in a different way and all you think about is their experiences and how you can see yourself have the same experience. It is really hard to encapsulate that in a few minutes. But that analogy seemed like a really accessible one to describe that specific nuance.
The film has a tension that builds up through repetition of dialogue and sounds. Without giving spoilers, this breaks at the end. Was there a particular thought process behind it?
The decision for the repetition only came up in editing. I try to be experimental and I like to be quite bold with my edits. It is about pursuing what you find evocative and I’m trying to encapsulate that surreal experience. At the end of the film, it’s cathartic. Richard and I spent hours talking about it and how we should tackle it. Again, when you go through that experience, it is a finite slice of time that feels eternal. But there is a punctuation to it and the end is the punctuation mark to the film.
What makes you interested in quantum physics and film?
My obsession for physics comes from my curiosity about the world. My obsession with film comes from a desire to communicate my curiosity about the world. I remember learning about the concept of wave particle duality in school for the first time – it kept me up at night. It was such a fascinating thing and I find this area of physics to be endlessly intriguing.
I’d written in my high school yearbook: “One day direct a film”. It didn’t seem attainable then, but then at university, there was a film society and they had challenges. Out of a pure love of film, I just kept making films and you bring along the friends you make along the way.
Please share with us an interesting detail about you how made the movie.
Quite typically for me, my productivity in filmmaking can come out of challenges and competitions. The Russo brothers of Avengers: Endgame fame had set up a 48-hour challenge. All of us were inspired by the challenge and the film came together.
What reaction do you hope for from viewers?
I want them to be enraptured by the drama of it. But there is a clear moment of catharsis and I really want it to come across. For a film of this length, you just want one really strong feeling at the end of it and that is just really all I hope for.
What is your favourite science-inspired or sci-fi movie?
I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan and he had a huge influence on me in the way I perceive time in film. I did my thesis on Interstellar – on the visual representations of physical phenomena. I’ve looked at some of the papers published on Interstellar. It is a really cool film because you don’t expect films to take theoretical physics that seriously. I’m also a big fan of George Lucas’s Star Wars and the work of James Cameron.
What does being a Quantum Shorts finalist mean to you?
It means a great deal. What I love about this is that what I thought was just my niche obsessions are actually appreciated by other people around the world. As a filmmaker, you just hope your film connects to one person, one audience member. Even though they don’t have a physics background they can still understand what you are communicating. It is wonderful to know that there is a festival out there that appreciates that.
Prasanna Sellathurai is an award winning writer and director. Prasanna served as one of the writers on the BBC 3 documentary series “Body Language” and the Channel 4 TV show “How To Be A Person”, both from Emmy nominated director Sindha Agha. In 2020, Prasanna was the recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Collab Film Prize for “An Alien Voice”, a short experimental film made during the lockdown period. Most significantly, Prasanna has worked as the production assistant to Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón, Sundance Jury winner Charlotte Regan and three time BAFTA winner Marc Munden. Most recently, Prasanna has been working in development at New Regency TV.