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You won't see his name on the theatre marquee, but Dr. Alfonso Fasano played a vital behind-the-scenes role in bringing one of the more out of the ordinary films to this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens today and runs through Sept. 18.
The neurologist and movement disorders specialist at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) is the scientific and medical adviser on the Italian film
Indivisible, which tells the story of teenage conjoined twin girls living in a small Italian town.
"It's not the sort of thing that you would typically see in a movie," says Dr. Fasano. "I didn't have much knowledge of conjoined twins, so I had to do a little research myself. But as far as human physiology and how the human body works and the accuracy of the language, I was able to provide a lot of feedback."
Dr. Fasano was asked to contribute to the film by director Edoardo De Angelis, who is coming to Toronto for the screening of
Indivisible at TIFF on Sept. 12.
Director a longtime friend
"The director is a long-standing friend. We come from the same town," explains Dr. Fasano. "I was always interested in art and movies and so was he. In fact, he was the singer in the band we played in together as teenagers."
Sitting in his office at TWH, Dr. Fasano giggles as he clicks through washed-out Facebook photos of the pair playing gigs in their hometown of Caserta, Italy as members of rap-electronic band General Observations, an outfit inspired by British trip-hoppers Massive Attack.
"When we got older we took different paths. He went to film school and I went to medical school," says Dr. Fasano. "Over the years we stayed in touch and sometimes, when he has questions about medical issues and jargon in a movie, he'll ask me to read the screenplay and give him suggestions."
Dr. Fasano reviewed the script for
Indivisible then sent notes and research papers on the study of conjoined twins to the production crew working on the film.
Director De Angelis, reached recently in Italy, says Dr. Fasano's contributions are an invaluable part of the storytelling process.
"I did research, I had access to medical documents and pictures," says De Angelis. "But I also spoke a lot with Alfonso, especially about the mental indivisibility of two conjoined twins."
"I like to set up my job at first with a deep research in the reality I want to create. And later, I build the script. Sometimes when I have an idea, I need to check with a doctor to see if it's realistic. Doctors are very important to give a solid base of reality to support the power of fantasy."
In the film, the conjoined twins meet an Italian doctor living aboard who has returned home. The doctor tells the girls that he believes he can separate them.
Named doctor after him as thanks
"Indivisible is a story about separation and the pain that that involves. It's like that saying, if you really want to grow, you need to be prepared to separate a part of yourself," says De Angelis.
As a thank you for his participation in the project, De Angelis had a surprise in store for his childhood friend: He named the doctor character in the film Dr. Alfonso Fasano.
"When I heard he was going to name a character in the movie after me I was surprised and happy to know and I thanked him," says Dr. Fasano, who notes while there are similarities between he and the character there is also at least one major difference. The real Dr. Fasano is a neurologist while the character in the film is a surgeon.
Dr. Fasano says his involvement in the film, as well as a lifelong love of the arts, including music – he plays keyboards in Toronto soul act Ebb & Flow – have motivated him to seek our possible connections between movement disorders and the arts.
"We are seeing now how medications can affect a person's creativity," he says. "There is actually a lot to talk about when it comes to neurology and creativity. I am excited to see where this goes."