Proposal by: Maaike Anne Stevens


Project proposal: Essay film

Bipolaris is an essay film of about 30 minutes about the fundamental difference in the way our two brain hemispheres experience the world. By means of documentary shots, fictional scenes, interviews and a soundscape, these two parallel worlds are each depicted and intertwined. The film is a poetic portrait of the deep-rooted paradox that seems to live within each one of us.


Toren C - Documentation of new art work - Bipolaris is an essay film of about 30 minutes about the fundamental difference in the way our two brain hemispheres experience the world. Photo by Maaike Anne Stevens Maaike Anne Stevens

Project description

The film tells the story of a fungus called Claviceps Purpurea, also known as Bipolaris. This fungus lives on grain and has caused outbreaks of Ergotism in the past. This disease leads to cramps, hallucinations and madness in humans and animals, and in severe cases to death. Using macro shots, the life cycle of the Claviceps is illustrated, interwoven with audio fragments of witnesses to the most recent outbreak of Ergotism, in the French village of Pont Saint-Esprit in 1951. Meanwhile, in a top floor apartment in a towerblock in an unknown city, an individual is silently constructing a 3D spatial model of a pollen of the fungus, which gradually takes on monstrous proportions, comes to life and eventually swallows the space and the character.

In terms of form and content, the film is an interweaving of two narrative perspectives, based on how our hemispheres experience the world; on the one hand, the perspective of the Tower, which symbolises the 'knowing' of science, that of modern Enlightenment thinking, and on the other hand the perspective of the Earth, in which life emerges, where the 'knowing' is embodied and where fungi dominate. But it soon becomes clear that these two perspectives are not fixed themselves either, that they shift and intertwine. The film, like the fungal world, is a place of paradoxes: Fungi are microscopic but can become overwhelmingly large; they are soft, but can force their way through asphalt; they are eaten, but also invade other organisms. In this symbiotic world, the boundaries of identity and the power relations of possessing and being possessed are blurred.

Technological progress alone is not going to save the world and I believe that art and science are a special pair in this respect; one that brings together knowledge and feeling, calculation and magic. We can learn how to fly and realise our ideas, but we also live in a body and stand with our feet in the mud; it is important to keep those two extremes in touch. This film is a plea for shifting the balance to the right hemisphere; for not recognising what you already know, for being surprised in a childlike way, for respecting the limits of human knowledge, for learning from other life forms. By placing the story in the kingdom of fungi, I deliberately cross the anthropocentric boundaries of place and time, of identity, and of truth and madness.

Possible ways to expand the project

This film plan is the wildest version of the project, but all the different elements that come together in the film (the living sculpture of the 3D model, a timelapse of the life cycle of the Claviceps Purpurea, the soundscape, the interviews in Pont Saint-Esprit) are each one of them sub-projects in themselves. In addition, I am open to all new/unexpected tracks that this project will undoubtedly bring.

Personal introduction

I was trained as a designer (Industrial Design Engineering, TUDelft, 2005) and then continued my education in Fine Arts in London: St.Martins College (BA Fine Arts, 2008) and Goldsmiths College (MFA Fine Arts, 2012). I work in various media (sculpture, graphics, text and film). My first short film Scylos (2021) was screened at Visions du Réel in Nyon, IFFR, the Viennale, among others. I also work as an exhibition designer on projects for different museums, including the Natural History Museum in London, the Open Air Museum in Arnhem and the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. In my work I bring together elements that contradict each other, to see what emerges in the space between two extreme opposites. The medium always follows the story, which is why I can never say with certainty at the start of a project what the final materialisation will be.

People involved:

Peter Mann (DOP) - Peter Mann (London 1979) is a filmmaker and photographer based in Amsterdam. His work has ranged from collaborations with contemporary artists to projects for clients and personal work including artists books, exhibitions and films. For my short film Scylos (2021) Peter worked as DOP, co-editor and co-producer.

Ingrid van Tol (scriptcoach) - Ingrid van Tol is an independent advisor and (script) coach for documentary makers and visual artists. She is also the chairman of production company near/by film and a regular advisor for the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, the NPO Fund and the Flemish Audiovisual Fund. At the Master Film of the Dutch Film Academy, she was an external examiner every year (2011-2019). From 2001 to 2017 she was head of documentary at the Media Fund. Before that, she worked as a policy officer and programme maker for film, visual arts and new media at the Rotterdamse Kunststichting and as a programme maker for art and new media at debate centre de Balie.

Stephan Blumenschein (soundscape) - Stephan is a visual artist working with architectural interventions, text and music. His latest record "Hmm... 1, or 2 or so metres. Inside" (ventil rec.) was released as part of his exhibition at P////AKT in 2020. For the soundtrack of Bipolaris he will develop a composition made of field recordings, hypnotic drum patterns and arrangements for wind instruments.

Estimated costs

TOTAL: 50000
Development: 17000
Production: 25000
Post-production: 8000

This proposal is part of the 'Penny for your Thoughts' project 2022.