Daffodil: Manny Kanabe interviews Anil Sebastian

A scientist uses AI to bring back the dead in this artful exploration of consciousness and loss

Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Anil Sebastian is proud to present an immersive short film Daffodil as premiered today by NOWNESS. Daffodil has been created with support from Momentum Funding by PRS Foundation, Arts Council and National Lottery.

Directed by Thiing Studios and written by Anil Sebastian, Daffodil explores the future of artificial intelligence and looks at what it means to be human and how we define identity. Combining animation by Thomas Rawle with slick live-action footage and archival footage from Sebastian’s childhood, Daffodil is a surreal examination of the moral implications of artificial intelligence through Sebastian’s imagination. Set in the near future, Daffodil tells the story of a scientist (played by Anil Sebastian themself) gone rogue and we see him attempting to bring back the conscious mind of a child in the form of an AI. In a parallel, otherworldly meta-verse this playful creature is being created through animation. Paired effortlessly with the film and archival footage, Sebastian’s exquisite avant-garde art-pop soundtrack provides the perfect backdrop for this mesmerising cinematic experience.

Daffodil is a Descartesian meditation on existence and consciousness. As technology continues to infiltrate our public and private life, how can we reach an authentic form of being? Can artificial intelligence gain consciousness and can it truly exist? Would you bring back someone you lost and if so, would they really be them? By combining science fiction elements with intimate, personal storytelling through encapsulating visuals and soundtrack, Daffodil is a film not to miss.

When we think about whether AI might one day be conscious it feels uncomfortable – we want to believe so much that consciousness exists and that it is something special and otherworldly.

What Anil Sebastian has to say about Daffodil: “We each think of ourselves as one constant unique identity moving through time – but what if we aren’t? Watching back my first ever film made at 10 with a camcorder, I found myself in tears at seeing a tiny forgotten fragment of my life as it was then. If you could bring back someone you lost as they were then, what would you ask them? Would it even be them? When we think about whether AI might one day be conscious it feels uncomfortable – we want to believe so much that consciousness exists and that it is something special and otherworldly. In Daffodil, when I don’t recognise the dark, playful creature as the person I’ve tried to bring back will I hit delete thinking I’ve failed? In doing so perhaps the real tragedy is not knowing the beautiful underwater metaverse they have made and losing it.”

For Sebastian’s cinematic debut, they have collaborated with an impressive list of some of the most forward-thinking musicians, artists and thinkers in the UK. Sebastian himself holds a degree in Physics and Philosophy and they are one of the most unique voices and producers in the UK scene having worked with some of the most iconic global stars such as Imogen Heap, U2 and Bjork producer Guy Sigsworth. Already a familiar face to many in the industry as the co-founder and director of the legendary London Contemporary Voices Choir, Anil’s work has seen them regularly working on arrangements for and appearing alongside the likes of Alt-J, Manu Delago, Elena Tonra (Daughter), Kelly Lee Owens, Laura Mvula and Sam Smith. Daffodil also sees a contribution by Anil’s brother Ingmar Kamalagharan as the co-producer of the film and live drummer on the soundtrack. Kamalagharan has a degree in Astronomy from UCL and works at the UK Space Agency and he is a long-time collaborator of the producer and innovator Cherif Hashizume (David Byrne, Jon Hopkins, Brian Eno) in machine learning, interactive music installations and innovative software. Kamalagharan is also a founding member and longtime collaborator of the London Contemporary Voices Choir where he also mixes and produces film and audio for several concerts and projects including with Imogen Heap.