Brighton’s known for having its fair share of extraordinary people but Drako Oho Zarrhazar stands out amongst the eccentrics. Quite apart from his appearance, there’s his inability to make new memories, and his flat, which is some sort of autobiographical sculpture-cum-outsider art masterpiece. Former SOURCE photographer Toby Amies has made an incredible film, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, about his relationship with this complicated man. If there’s a more moving documentary at Cinecity this year, it’s going to be an amazing festival.
How did you meet such an extraordinary man?
I met him through an old SOURCE correspondent, David Bramwell. David had been given a grant from the Arts Council to commission a film that his band Oddfellows Casino were going to play in front of, and he said, “We have to get Drako in it”. I’d seen Drako cycle past in Kemptown, and I was like, “Whooah!” After that I made a Radio 4 documentary about him and then started this film which took five years to complete.
What did you think it was going to be about?
Initially I thought it was going to be, ‘He’s had this amazing life and he’s worked with Salvador Dali’ but on screen that’s quite boring. You sort of know everything you need to know about Dali. Because Drako has got this significant amount of brain damage we thought it might be able to show how you cope with that. Part of the film is about how he came out of his coma saying ‘Trust absolute unconditional’, which became his mantra, his philosophy. And that allowed him to cope with the horror anyone would feel about not remembering what happened five minutes ago. It must be terrifying.
What was the turning point?
There was a point in our story when I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’ which I think is a great place for an artist to be in. But that was also the point where I realised Drako wasn’t doing a great job of looking after himself. So it became a sense of obligation. And that’s also the point in the film where everything starts to look really shitty. I realised my fancy Canon 5D rig was becoming a barrier to going to see him, and going to see him was the most important thing. So I bought a camera that meant that if there was something that I ought to film, I’d always have that opportunity, but more importantly I’d get to see Drako to find out how he was.
So then the documentary became about you and him.
I’m a portrait photographer and as that you have a choice in the pictures you take of people. You can either take a picture of someone having their picture taken, and you impose your aesthetic on them. Or you take a picture of your relationship with your subject, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Unconsciously – but consciously in the edit – that’s what I made a film about, my relationship with Drako.
Was it a tough decision to put yourself in the centre of the film?
The last thing I wanted to do was smear myself all over it, even though I’ve got a background as a presenter and I have, y’know, an ego, it’s fair to say. But I wanted to use myself to put the audience in the position of someone who’s trying to have a relationship with this extraordinary, beautiful, weird, funny, difficult individual. That’s really what the film is about. The relationship with Drako became the most important thing, and that’s what I started to film.
Your friendship looked far from easy.
It was tough going to see him, because it’s not like a relationship where someone says, ‘It’s so nice of you to drop by!’ It’s just like, ‘Hello, who are you?’ Drako had some understanding sometimes that he might have met me before but it was hard to have a friendship with him starting from scratch every time.