Director’s Notes, from Robert Kane Pappas

January 30, 2010

Robert Kane Papps, director, TO AGE OR NOT TO AGEOn Halloween (October 31st) 2006, I read the front page story in the New York Times Science section, regarding calorie restriction (CR) and its effects on the health and lifespan of monkeys. Two days later there was a second article beginning on the front page of the Main section, which amplified the first story.

Scientists at Harvard and MIT had been investigating the molecular biology behind calorie restriction since the early 90’s, but over the past several years, one of the Harvard Scientists (Dr. David Sinclair) had identified a substance, resveratrol—found in the skin of red grapes (among other plants)—that seemed to stimulate the same gene, i.e., a first generation calorie restriction mimetic. Mice fed this substance displayed some of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction.

But something else struck me about the article: the lead scientist, Dr. Sinclair, was taking resveratrol. His wife, his parents, and “half my lab” are also taking resveratrol, he said. Dr. Sinclair had studied at MIT under Dr. Leonard Guarente, who, in 1995, found a gene that controlled the longevity of Yeast (Sir 2). A few years later, Dr. Sinclair teamed up with Dr. Christoph Westphal and founded the biotech company Sirtrus, which, at the time of the article’s publication, was doing extensive testing in both mice and humans.

So began my three-year odyssey of making To Age or Not to Age.

Film directors tend to be serial experts on whatever idea they happen to be seized by.

My last film investigated the structure and methodology of the mainstream news media (Orwell Rolls In His Grave). The film before that concerned love (Some Fish Can Fly).

In making To Age or Not to Age, I probed molecular and evolutionary biology.

The questions and implications surrounding these new discoveries are nothing less than earthshaking.

To quote George Bernard Shaw: 

If you have read “Back to Methuselah”, you will remember Franklyn Barnabas, the ex-clergyman, who with his bother, Conrad, the biologist, had come to the conclusion that the duration of human life must be extended to three hundred years, not because people would profit by a longer experience, but because it was not worth their time to make any serious attempt to better the world or their own condition when they had only thirty or forty years before they doddered away into decay and death. The Brothers Barnabas were, in fact, the first discoverers of the staringly obvious truth that it is our expectation of life and not our experience of it that determines our conduct and character. Consequently, the very vulgar proposition that you can not change human nature is valid only on the assumption that you can not change the duration of human life. If you can change that, you can change political conduct. It was on this thesis of the Barnabas’ that I was concerned when I wrote Back to Methuselah.

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