Tricky Memory • 2016

Category: Brain
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Memory is not a photo album where your images of the past are faithfully recorded. The latest neuroscience discoveries show that memory can be affected in many ways and with surprising results: false memories, distortions, modifications and deja vu. To what extent can we rely on our memories?

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Rhod Gilbert is painfully shy. He might hide it well, but he can't even go into a cafe to buy a coffee. No joke. In fact, his social anxiety has had a massive effect on his life. Rhod's going to try find out why and what can be done. Talking to fellow shy comedian Greg Davies, other shy sufferers, and scientists, Rhod comes up with a radical solution for how we can all stand up to shyness. Rhod can stand up in front of 20,000 people and make them laugh for two hours solid. But he has always found it virtually impossible to talk to people one to one. From childhood, it has been a life-limiting condition. And in this Rhod is certainly not alone. It is estimated that nearly half the population in the UK have some manifestation of shyness and social anxiety. For many it is a minor irritation, for some it is a condition that can virtually destroy a life.

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Imagine a world in which you can think but cannot speak. For many stroke survivors, like former football star Junior and landlord Barry, this nightmare is a reality. Inspired by the experience of his brother-in-law, filmmaker Richard Alwyn has made an intensely moving, personal film about language and its loss. Alwyn's brother-in-law, journalist Dennis Barker, had a stroke in 2011 which left him speaking a bizarre, fluent gibberish – just one manifestation of the condition ‘aphasia' in which people lose or have a severely impaired ability to use language. Speechless tells the powerful stories of two men who can no longer take language for granted. Much of the film is made on the Neuro Rehab Unit of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London's Queen Square. There, Alwyn meets 55 year old Barry who has been in hospital for 4 months since a stroke left him barely able to speak. Courageous and determined, Barry's personality constantly triumphs where his language fails. And two years after his stroke when just 35 years-old, former Premier League and international footballer Junior Agogo is still visiting the Unit as he battles to find his way in the world with depleted language. “I had thoughts but I'm saying, where was my voice? I was baffled, man.” Speechless raises questions that straddle philosophy and science. Can we understand the world if we don't have language to name and describe it? Can we think without language? How much is our identity wrapped up in language? These questions are at the heart of conversations that Alwyn has with clinicians and therapists working to get Barry and Junior back into the world. Speechless is fascinating and moving, upsetting and uplifting in its depiction of the isolating and estranging condition, aphasia.

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