Documentary Films

THE SUBSTANCE - Albert Hofmann´s LSD

A film by Martin Witz

A Venturafilm production
in co-production with RSI-Radiotelevisione svizzera, Teleclub, LICHTBLICK FILM, Spotlight Media Productions

release Germany: Mindjazz Pictures
release Suisse: Frenetic
wordsales: Autlook Filmsales

35mm, HD / 89 Min. / Color & b/w

By coincidence rather then by design the swiss chemist Albert Hofmann makes a sensational discovery in the spring of 1943. He realizes that he is dealing with a powerful molecule that will have an impact not only on the scientific world. THE SUBSTANCE - is an investigation into our troubled relation with LSD. Told from its beginnings until today.

In 1943, the year in which the first A-bomb was built, Albert Hofmann discovered LSD ­– a substance that was to become an A-bomb of the mind. Fractions of a milligram are enough to turn our framework of time and space upside down.

The story of a drug – its discovery in the Basle chemistry lab, the first experiments by Albert Hofmann on himself, the 1950s experiments of the psychiatrists, the consciousness researchers, the artists…  Could it actually be possible to find a path to the core of our human existence by means of a chemical? Spirituality at the flick of a switch? Do the enigmatic effects of this drug really help us to better understand the human soul? … Could LSD be an instrument of contemporary psychiatry? Of modern brain research?

In the Cold War, the US Army and also the CIA begin their systematic experiments with human beings – LSD as a weapon. And then, in the early 1960s, the “miracle drug” escaped from the lab. The craziest developments in Western societies become centered on the substance by the name of lysergic acid diethylamide. The psychedelic drug seemed to be tailor-made for dropouts of the affluent society: the hippies, the protest movement – the counterculture. LSD as the fuel of the rebellion?  As a source of free thinking that lead even to the development of an independent, groundbreaking computer technology? The drug apostle Timothy Leary proclaimed his famous line of “Turn on, tune in, drop out!” and hundreds of thousands followed him into a true LSD euphoria.

Only Albert Hofmann, in the eye of the hurricane, calmly kept on researching – even if it pained him to see how his “sacred” LSD degenerated into a mass consumer product and soon appeared on the black list. The Swiss scientist had long become a natural philosopher, a quiet visionary of holism.

In 2007 the Swiss Federal Agency for Health once again gave a green light for the clinical use of hallucinogenic substances. LSD as a palliative remedy to provide some relief from the fear that terminally ill patients have of dying? – In the year of his 100th birthday Albert Hofmann’s most fervent wish is fulfilled: After for decades of banishment, his “problem child,” as he called it, found its way back into legality. And perhaps it will still become a wunderkind – a legal medication that alleviates human suffering?

THE SUBSTANCE – A journey through time in broad cinematic arcs, with archival material from private sources that have not been released before, newly processed international archives and principal witnesses of the historical events – and obviously Albert Hofmann, the main character who has his say time and again, interviewed shortly before his death.

Albert Hofmann's legacy: looking back to the 20th Century and looking ahead to the new developments related to LSD … and perhaps also a look at ourselves.

written and directed by: Martin Witz
producer: Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli
co-producer: Carl-Ludwig Rettinger, Peter Luisi
commissioning editors: Ilvana Bezzola Rigonlini, Luisella Realini
DoP: Pio Corradi
editor: Stefan Kälin
sound USA/CH by: Russ Jaquith, Balthasar Jucker
music by: Marcel Vaid

Locarno International Film Festival 2011

Nomination Best Documentary Film: Swiss Film Prize Quartz 2012
DOK Leipzig
Sevilla - European Film Festival
Kasseler Dok Fest
Leeds International Film Festival
Festival dei Popoli Firenze
Solothurner Filmtage
Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis
IDFA Amsterdam