What if you could watch Socrates, on film, rehearsing his Socratic dialogues? What if there was footage of Descartes, Thoreau, or Shakespeare as themselves at work and in their daily life? Might we now look at these figures differently, with perhaps a deeper understanding of their work and lives?
Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman asked themselves these questions, and decided to team up and document one of the most visionary and influential thinkers of the 20th century, a man who single-handedly altered the way many of us look at history, language, art, and, ultimately, ourselves: the brilliant and iconoclastic French philosopher Jacques Derrida.
For over five years, Dick (“Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”) and Ziering Kofman (Producer, “Taylor’s Campaign”) played Plato to our own modern day Socrates. The filmmaking team shadowed the renowned philosopher, best known for “deconstruction,” and captured intimate footage of the man as he lives and works in his daily life. They filmed Derrida on his first trip to South Africa, where — after visiting President Mandela’s former prison cell — he delivers a lecture on forgiveness to students at the University of the Western Cape. The filmmakers travel with him from his home in Paris to New York City, where he discusses the role of biographers, and the challenges that are faced when one attempts to bridge the abyssal gulf between a historic figure’s work and life. They capture Derrida in private moments, musing reluctantly, about fidelity and marriage, narcissism and celebrity, and the importance of thinking philosophically about love.
Yet DERRIDA is in no way a talking heads movie or conventional biographical portrait. Its bold, visual style, mesmerizing score by Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, and novel editorial approach create a rich, lively cinematic experience, at once provokes, amuses and entertains. In resisting any predictable, formulaic approach, they make Derrida a living, informal demonstration of “deconstruction” — a system of thought which up to now has otherwise eluded cinematic capture. The result is not only thought provoking, but ground-breaking.