ASTRA 2016 – Journey Inside the Brain


As soon as you get to Sibiu during ASTRA film festival, you feel something magic is happening. Streets are reminding you at every corner that ASTRA is in town and is about to amaze you.

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Streets of Sibiu during ASTRA; Photo by Florin Slabu

The festival will answer some of your old questions, but it will also leave you with new, unanswered ones. Since the festival has several different venues, you walk from a venue to another and you keep asking yourself: “What am I about to see? What emotions and thoughts is the next documentary going to cause?” Well, you don’t have to walk for too long to get to the next venue and you will for sure be served with a new “cocktail of impressions”.

ASTRA film festival is the unique chance to get to see the ideas born all over the world in brains of different people. Sometimes, it even helps you look inside your own brain since it covers psychological and behavioral patterns that we all share. This year’s edition touched a few subjects especially interesting to me and left me with a lot of material for thought at least until the next year’s edition. Let’s take a look!

1. THE APPLAUSE MAN, 2014, 39’

This documentary captures life of a man who has a very unusual passion: to receive applause. His desire to be the object of admiration of thousands of people is simply unstoppable. The camera follows him during his adventures of fulfilling his dreams and lets us understand how his brain works. It is amazing to see how simple some people’s desires can be and yet, there are people who might stand in the way of satisfying those simple desires.

Will the mysterious applause man get the ovation of his life?

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The director of the film, Ruber Vermeersch enjoying his share of applause; Photo by Florin Slabu

2. RIGHT BETWEEN YOUR YEARS, 2016, 63’

This documentary crawls into the brains of people with different backgrounds who for their own subjective reasons decided to believe that the end of the world was near and the exact doom’s day was already defined. It shows how anyone can be prone to believing something they thought they never would, given the right circumstances. With the help of neuroscience and behavioral psychology, this film explains steps of believing something and taking it as a fact forgetting the initial doubts.

The most interesting part comes when you can observe the reactions and feelings of the believers realizing that the end of the world has not arrived yet. They experience what they call cognitive dissonance. Feeling that you have when your own belief about yourself is not corresponding to your particular actions and you simply have to admit you have been wrong all this time.

I couldn’t help but remember all those moments in my life when I surprised myself with a particular action and was trying to find different justifications just to keep the image of myself.

Writer of the movie, Kris De Meyer mentioned in the Q&A session that documentary becomes even more relevant in the context of Brexit and the popularity of Donald Trump (He was hoping Trump wouldn’t win the elections) since it shows how easily people can believe something that clearly doesn’t make any sense

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Wrtiter – Kris De Meyer, Writer and the director- Sheila Marshall at the Q&A session; Photo by Florin Slabu

3. KEEP QUIET, 2016, 90’

This movie focuses on one man’s cognitive dissonance. The main character, Csanad Szegedi, is a far-right politician in Hungary driven by extremely nationalistic ideas and anti-Semitic feelings. He is a young man who achieved tremendous success by echoing Hungarian people’s anger. At the beginning of the film, we can witness how he is proud of his political activities and is grateful for the success he achieved.

But since life has bigger plot-twists than movies, guess what? Csanad finds out that his grandmother is Jewish which makes him Jewish as well. Anti-Semitic feelings slowly turn into confusion and we are able to follow his path to coming at terms with his “new identity”.
For me, this film demonstrated once again how desperately humans need the feeling of identity and sometimes, we can go great lengths to have one, even if the identity is a controversial one.

After watching this movie, I imagined what if the same thing happened to every racist or discriminator of any kind? I guess world would be a very interesting place to live, full of people asking themselves: “Wait… how could this be?” and involuntarily changing their hateful beliefs.

***

After an interesting journey inside the brain, I concluded:

If we want our brain not to play tricks on us, we should constantly ask ourselves the favorite question of children and philosophers – WHY?

ASTRA can certainly help not forgetting to do it at least annually.

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Me at a Q&A session, Photo by Florin Slabu
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