HOSTS: Artur Ekert, Dagomir Kaszlikowski
Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore

Reality Lost is an unconventional documentary that tackles a revolution in thinking. What does quantum theory tell us about reality? Who are the scientists trying to unravel its puzzles? What practical things can we do with it? Can we dance it? Conceived and executed by me, the film was made in Singapore in 2013 with a generous support from the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at the National University of Singapore. It features eight leading researchers talking about quantum theory in locations ranging from dense jungle to hazy roof-tops and old boats to busy eateries. The film also features sequences of dance and of pottery-making at Singapore’s largest surviving dragon kiln – contrasting abstract ideas and earthy reality.

I made Reality Lost during a year’s appointment as an Outreach Fellow at CQT, having been granted a sabbatical by POLITYKA. I continue to collaborate with CQT on The Pioneers documentary series.

The project’s website:
Bonus scenes of Reality Lost can be watched here.
Numerous excerpts are here.



Full movie


It was a wonderfully crazy year: nearly fifty filming days completed, dozens of miles of location scouting covered, forty hours of footage edited through, and finally, a one hour movie rendered off.

It was quite an experiment, a challenge of a magnitude I hadn’t fully appreciated when I began. But that’s the way things get done, right? Staying inside your comfort zone is always safe and cosy, but it inevitably leads to a slow thermal death.

The movie was supposed to be a series of short episodes. I started off imagining that I would make one episode to deal with the existence of reality and the problem of measurement, one with the quantum multiverse, and one with quantum aspects of biology. In the making, the project transformed itself. It went through a whole Darwinian evolutionary process, and I ended up not with a collection of parts but with a single hour-long, full-blown documentary movie. Reality Lost focuses on a single question, the most fundamental question among the philosophical consequences of quantum mechanics: does reality exist?

Making a documentary that deals with such an elusive yet mathematically well-defined subject matter meant using two boxes of tools simultaneously – those that are designed to spark the left, dead logical half of the brain, and those that tap the right half of the brain, which likes to fiddle with emotions. And you have to be kind, very kind to the latter.

My approach was to interweave the abstract with scenes of tangible life. Eight researchers agreed to take part in the project, to talk about quantum mechanics and what they think the theory means, to describe their contributions, their passions and their hopes. I filmed them in locations ranging from dense jungle to hazy roof-tops, old boats to busy eateries. In the final cut, these interviews are stitched together with B-rolls of birds, of dancing and of pottery-making at Singapore’s largest surviving dragon kiln.

At the least, I want the film to show that science equals taking risks, that scientists resist failure more often than celebrating triumphs. It should show that there are conflicts and unfulfilments, but that there also exist those almost magical moments of discovery that help make our funny Homo sapiens creatures truly, fully human.

A project like this one, involving many strong, fiercely intelligent and independent people, has its own internal logic and dynamics. You can’t fight it. You have to find the flow, search for the beat and follow it. Zen and The Art of Shooting a Documentary Movie – something like that… The project had to negotiate its way around obstacles of changing schedules, altering plans and cancelled visits, interpersonal idiosyncrasies, shifting weather conditions, equipment malfunctions, location availability, and, most importantly, sail through the ocean full of icebergs of my own personal limitations and assumptions. But it’s ready. It’s there, and it’s time to set it free.

The fact that the movie is alive and hopefully kicking is thanks to the fellowship funded by CQT and NUS. The fellowship was liberating in having a loosely defined character, but there was also something deeply scientific in its core spirit. It was an experiment in the purest form. There were well defined boundary conditions, basic assumptions and all those fancy prerequisites. I hope the experiment has proven the hypothesis that one can make a non-trivial documentary movie on quantum physics to be valid.

If it doesn’t work, put the blame on me. If the outcome works, it’s thanks to a bunch of extraordinary people: Artur Ekert, who turned the green light knob; Jenny Hogan who made the light lit; Dag Kaszlikowski, the film’s host, whose support cannot be overestimated; Charles Bennett, Gilles Brassard, Stephanie Wehner, Christian Kurtsiefer, Valerio Scarani, Vlatko Vedral – the researchers who decided to risk their reputation by participating in this project. There were also Faye Lim, Bernice Lee, Christina Chan, and Daniel Sahagun Sanchez (also a CQTian), local artists who made the movie literally dance. There were also ceramicists Steven Low Thia Kwang and Ng Yang Ce. Without them reality would have much less tangible a status. And, last but not least, there was Singapore, an amazing city state, the lab of the future, providing a multilayered visual context and the crucial subtext of the story line.

The text above was originally published on the CQT website.


Reality Lost movie was presented at the Docs+Science section of the The Cracow Film Festival, during the annual open air festival Miasto i Ogród, organized by the Palace of Culture and Science and Studio Arts Theatre in Warsaw (Poland), at the Universum, Museo de las Ciencias in Mexico City (Mexico), and at the ArtScience Museum (Singapore).