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S35 Ep5

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

Premiere: 4/9/2021 | 00:02:02 |

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life explores the life and work of the legendary neurologist and storyteller, as he shares intimate details of his battles with drug addiction, homophobia, and a medical establishment that accepted his work only decades after the fact.

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About the Episode

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life explores the life and work of the legendary neurologist and storyteller, as he shares intimate details of his battles with drug addiction, homophobia, and a medical establishment that accepted his work only decades after the fact. Sacks, known for his literary works Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, was a fearless explorer of unknown cognitive worlds who helped redefine our understanding of the brain and mind, the diversity of human experience, and our shared humanity.  The film features exclusive interviews with Sacks conducted just weeks after he received a terminal diagnosis, and months prior to his death in August 2015, and nearly two dozen deeply revealing and personal interviews with family members, colleagues, patients and close friends, including  Jonathan Miller, Robert Silvers, Temple Grandin, Christof Koch, Robert Krulwich, Lawrence Weschler, Roberto Calasso, Paul Theroux, Bill Hayes, Kate Edgar, and  Atul Gawande, among others. The film also draws on unique access to the extensive archives of the Oliver Sacks Foundation.

Director Ric Burns said, “It turns out that the revelatory power, narrative drama and emotional force of Oliver Sacks’ own life story – his case history – rivals that of the extraordinary cohort of people he sought to humanize and understand so brilliantly, deeply and empathetically in his exceptional clinical practice and writings.  We are thrilled to be working with Zeitgest Films in association with Kino Lorber in bringing the story of Oliver’s remarkable life and work and brilliance to audiences everywhere.”

Audio descriptive version:


Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a Vulcan Productions, Steeplechase Films, American Masters Pictures, Motto Pictures, Passion Pictures, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, Sandbox Films and Independent Television Service, Inc. production in association with Artemis Rising Foundation, ARTE and WDR. It is produced by Leigh Howell, Bonnie Lafave and Kathryn Clinard and executive producers include Paul G. Allen, Carole Tomko, Rocky Collins, Michael Kantor, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Doron Weber, Arthur G. Altschul Jr., Margaret Munzer Loeb, Nion McEvoy, Regina K. Scully, Geralyn White Dreyfous, David Guy Elisco, Sean B. Carroll, Sally Jo Fifer, John Battsek, Nicole Stott and Greg Boustead.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

About WNET
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including NATURE, GREAT PERFORMANCES, AMERICAN MASTERS, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND, and the nightly interview program AMANPOUR AND COMPANY. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.

Ric Burns
Ric Burns is a documentary filmmaker and writer, best known for his eight-part, 17-hour series New York: A Documentary Film, which premiered nationally on PBS to critical acclaim (1999, 2001, 2003). Burns has been writing, directing and producing historical documentaries for over 25 years, since his collaboration on the PBS series The Civil War (1990), which he produced with his brother Ken and co-wrote with Geoffrey Ward. Since founding Steeplechase in 1989, he has directed many films of note for PBS including Coney Island (1991), The Donner Party (1992), The Way West (1995), Ansel Adams (2002), Eugene O’Neill, Andy Warhol (2006), Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World (2010), Death and the Civil War (2013), American Ballet Theatre: A History (2015), Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History (2015), The Pilgrims (2015), VA: The Human Cost of War (2017), and The Chinese Exclusion Act (2018). His work has won numerous film and television awards including six Emmy awards, three Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Journalism awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, two Organization of American Historians’ Erick Barnouw prizes, three Writers Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Writing, and the D.W. Griffith Award of the National Board of Review. Burns was educated at Columbia University and Cambridge University. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.

Kino Lorber
With a library of over 2,800 titles, Kino Lorber Inc. has been a leader in independent art house distribution for 35 years, releasing 30 films per year theatrically under its Kino Lorber, Kino Repertory, and Alive Mind Cinema banners, garnering seven Academy Award® nominations in nine years, including documentary nominees Fire at Sea (2017) and Of Fathers & Sons (2019). In addition, the company brings over 350 titles yearly to the home entertainment and educational markets through physical and digital media releases. With an expanding family of distributed labels, Kino Lorber handles releases in ancillary media for Zeitgeist Films, Carlotta USA, Adopt Films, Raro Video, and others, placing physical titles through all wholesale, retail, and direct to consumer channels, as well as direct digital distribution through over 40 OTT services including all major TVOD and SVOD platforms.

Zeitgeist Films
Zeitgeist Films is a New York-based distribution company founded in 1988 which acquires and distributes the finest independent films from the U. S. and around the world. In 2017, Zeitgeist entered into a multi-year strategic alliance with renowned film distributor Kino Lorber.

Zeitgeist has distributed early films by such notable directors as Todd Haynes, Christopher Nolan, Francois Ozon, Laura Poitras, Atom Egoyan and the Quay Brothers. Their catalog includes films from the world’s most outstanding filmmakers including Margerethe Von Trotta, Ken Loach, Guy Maddin, Derek Jarman, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Peter Greenaway, Yvonne Rainer, Andrei Zyvagintsev, Astra Taylor and Raoul Peck. Zeitgeist in association with Kino Lorber also released Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story  and Matt Tyrnauer’s Studio 54, continuing the Zeitgeist tradition of releasing quality documentaries and narrative films.

Five Zeitgeist films have been nominated for Academy Awards and one, Nowhere in Africa, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Their films have been honored by festivals throughout the world with Grand Prizes at Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Tribeca, and IDFA in Amsterdam. The Museum of Modern Art honored Zeitgeist with a month-long, 20th anniversary retrospective of their films in 2008.

Additional upcoming Zeitgeist Films releases in association with Kino Lorber include Alison Reid’s The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, with Matt Wolf’s Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project currently on screens now.

Vulcan Productions
Vulcan Productions believes that storytelling can change the world. The company produces and distributes content that informs, inspires, and activates audiences – putting stories to work with far-reaching impact campaigns that advance new policies, shift individual behaviors, and contribute to significant institutional change. Its team includes both expert producers and seasoned impact strategists and movement builders. Leveraging platforms ranging from film and television to XR and other emerging media, Vulcan Productions’ content and campaigns are at the center of some of society’s most pressing challenges.

Vulcan Productions films include The Reason I Jump, Ghost Fleet, The Cold Blue, Netflix Original: The Ivory Game, the Sundance Special Jury Award-winner STEP, News & Documentary Emmy®-nominated Going to War, Girl Rising, Racing Extinction, the Academy Award®-nominated Body Team 12, and emerging media works including Ghost Fleet VR, X-Ray Fashion, Drop in the Ocean, and Guardians of the Kingdom. Films currently in production tell searing, eye-opening stories on issues including climate change, ocean health, public health, humanitarian disasters, criminal justice reform, and more. Follow Vulcan Productions ( on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Motto Pictures
Motto Pictures specializes in producing and executive producing documentary features and series. Motto has been honored with three Academy Award nominations and multiple Emmy Awards. Founded in 2009, Motto secures financing, builds distribution strategies and creatively develops films with an eye toward maximizing the position of each project in the domestic and international markets. Motto has produced a wide range of award winning films, working with a line-up of talented and acclaimed filmmakers, that have been featured at the most prestigious film festivals and distributed around the world.  These films include: One Child Nation, Ringside, The Apollo,  Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, The Final Year, The Cleaners, Charm City, The Raft, Take Your Pills, Life, Animated, Weiner, The Music Of Strangers, Best Of Enemies, Art And Craft, The Kill Team, 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, 1971,Solitary, Enlighten Us, Southwest Of Salem, Indian Point, Buck, Sergio, God Loves Uganda, Manhunt, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Beware Of Mr. Baker among many others.

HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
HHMI Tangled Bank Studios is a production company established and funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as an extension of its longstanding science education mission. The Institute is the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States. Dedicated to the creation of original science documentaries for broadcast, theatrical and digital distribution, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios award-winning films address important contemporary issues and capture compelling stories of discovery across all branches of scientific inquiry. Recent films include Emmy Award-winning The FarthestVoyager in Space, NY Times “Critic’s Pick” The Serengeti Rules, film festival favorite Inventing Tomorrow, and GSCA Award-winning IMAX® films Backyard Wilderness and Amazon Adventure. For more information visit

Passion Pictures
Passion Pictures’ first feature documentary One Day In September was conceived and produced by John Battsek and went on to win an Academy Award® in 1999. Passion has since been at the forefront of feature documentary production – as evidenced by a prolific run of multi-award winning films, a reputation for securing international theatrical releases, and – as of 2018 – an unprecedented thirteen consecutive years premiering films at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Notable titles include: Restrepo, The Tillman Story, The Imposter, Searching For Sugar Man, Winter On Fire And Listen To Me Marlon – these films and others see Passion collaborate with some of the most exciting filmmakers, writers, journalists, editors, composers, cinematographers and production partners working in the industry today. We hope our films connect, move and inspire through the power of extraordinary true stories.

Sandbox Films
Sandbox Films is a mission-driven documentary studio that champions excellence in science storytelling. Through co-productions and co-financing opportunities, we collaborate with production partners and visionary filmmakers around the world to tell new stories about science. We seek to illuminate the pursuit of discovery, in all its beauty and sometimes messiness, with stories that humanize science in relatable ways for diverse points of view. Sandbox Films, LLC is a registered affiliate of the Simons Foundation. More info at