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My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond (first look) is a charming and inspiring documentary about Dr. Marian Diamond. If you’re in or around the San Francisco Bay Area by all means try to get to a screening at MVFF (just north of San Francisco) to learn about the legendary neuroscientist. Diamond’s revolutionary discoveries not only shattered the glass in a male-dominated field but also paved the way for modern-day brain research. It’s a special story about an extraordinary person.

“Use it or lose it,” Diamond says in Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg’s film. After watching it last week, the expression stuck with me — as did the idea of enriching one’s environment to spark creativity and growth of the brain. I wanted to learn more about the filmmakers who captured such informative, entertaining material over a 5 year span. Fortunately, Catherine and Gary are first up in our Filmmaker Q&A at the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).

My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond - Mill Valley Film Festival

FILMMAKER Q&A: Catherine Ryan / My Love Affair With the Brain

Stark Insider: Dr. Marian Diamond’s story is remarkable, and, yet, perhaps not as well known as it should be. How did you come up with the idea to do this documentary?

Catherine Ryan (Co-director, My Love Affair with the Brain): We were looking for a story that would inspire, that would raise up an important woman’s story, and when we found Dr. Diamond’s Anatomy lectures on YouTube, we, along with 1.5 million others, were riveted, and amazed that anatomy could be so interesting and fun! In addition to her teaching, Dr. Diamond’s research was fundamental to what we know understand about brain plasticity, and she was the first person to study Einstein’s brain tissue! Dr. Diamond’s life work has been the investigation of questions about the potential of the human brain, and her findings provide us with clues to a happy, healthy brain.

SI: Speaking of healthy brain id you get to touch the brain we see in the film? If so, how did it feel? And did it change your perception of our human selves?

CR: Well, we certainly had the opportunity to touch it, but the sight of it in close up was sufficient!  One of the most exciting aspects of Dr. Diamond’s scientific findings is that one will absolutely see the potential of one’s own brain in a new and expanded light, after learning about it from Dr. Diamond!

SI: Agreed, not to mention she makes learning so infectious! What was the most insightful thing you learned from Dr. Diamond?

CR: It is hard to name one most insightful thing…. When in the presence of Dr. Diamond her curiosity is contagious.  She is the master of the simple elegant question, and inspires others to look for those questions. Her advice from 60 years of research on the brain is “use it or lose it”.  The brain is plastic and can change depending on the environment – enrichment grows the brain, impoverishment shrinks it.  Her five recommendations for a healthy brain, based on research are: diet, exercise, challenge, newness and love.

SI: There’s so many wonderful scenes in the film. I was especially in awe during the scene when Dr. Diamond explains the brain to a young girl. We witness the magic of the learning process. But I’m guessing a lot needed to be cut to fit the film into a sixty minute structure. Was there a great moment that didn’t make it into the final cut?

CR: Yes, quite a few scenes have been left on the cutting room floor. One of my favorites is the story about Dr. Diamond the adventurous outdoorswoman.  When Dr. Diamond and her husband, Dr. Scheibel (UCLA Neuroscience, retired) were in Kenya teaching and Dr. Diamond, decided that she really wanted to hike up Kilamanjaro.  She joined a group and made the hike. When she got to the top she was too excited to sleep and noticed a conversation coming from another hut. She is a very friendly person, and she asked to join the conversation. When she sat down she found out that it was President Jimmy Carter talking with another hiker.  Dr. Diamond spent the evening in conversation about life with Jimmy Carter!  And, of course they became friends.

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SI: Has Dr. Marian Diamond seen the film? If so, what was her reaction?

CR: Yes, Dr. Diamond has seen the film and is happy with the outcome, especially the audience responses that have been so very positive!

SI: I love Marian Diamond’s expression, “Use it or Lose It” in reference to the brain. I’m curious… what do you do to enrich your environment?

CR: Good questions.  Since meeting Marian and learning about her work, her five recommendations for a better brain are part of my everyday thinking – diet, exercise, challenge, newness, and love – need some of each in every day!

SI: Anything unique you observed about the way Marian Diamond approaches scientific inquiry that enabled her to challenge the status quo? Not once, but many times?

CR: Dr. Diamond’s success as a woman in a man’s field required that she be twice as good as the next “guy.” Luckily she is a person of great mental and physical stamina and she never minded hard work and long hours. She has great patience and belief in the scientific process. And, she has a unique ability to find and ask the right questions to find important answers.

Ok, lightning round, a Stark Insider tradition, go with whatever comes first to you!

… favorite food…?


… favorite music…?

old stuff

… and, of course, since we’re at the Mill Valley Film Festival, favorite movie or two you’ve seen recently…?

Valley of Love, Isabelle Huppert and Death Valley – stunning

Thanks for your time Catherine and Gary. Best of luck with your project. I think people are going to love the film!

My Love Affair With the Brain screens at MVFF on the following dates:

  • Thu. Oct. 13 6:30pm
  • Fri. Oct. 14 10:00am
  • Sat. Oct. 15 11:15am

Stark Insider hopes to see you and about at the Mill Valley Film Festival!

Don’t forget: use it or lose it.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear