Astra Taylor, Canadian director of Žižek! has conquered and surpassed the traditional aesthetic realm of documentary filmmaking, by moving past the talking head. Her new film, Examined Life takes eight philosophers to the streets, placing them in non-traditional settings (Slavoj Žižek, for example, talks about the fascism of ecology in the midst of a garbage dump). Needless to say, it’s pretty interesting.
I found a really great interview with Taylor on the Spoutblog – here are a few highlights:
(On her definition of philosophy)
For me, one really simple definition of philosophy I like is that philosophers are people who persist in asking childish questions. Maybe questions that are timeless and eternal and ones in which there is no consensus on the answer. Maybe that’s why some people think it’s an indulgent, pointless exercise, but I don’t see it that way.
Spout: For a film that’s almost entirely comprised of people talking about philosophical concepts, Examined Life is quite dynamic and visually stimulating – how did you conceive the aesthetic for it?
Taylor: I became very invested in the kinetic element of filmmaking. I came to filmmaking by accident. I wasn’t schooled in it, I don’t really know any of the formal language of cinema, I don’t understand three point lighting. One of the biggest letdowns of the documentary format is that its talking heads. People never say that as if it’s a good thing. So when I decided to make an ensemble piece about philosophy, the question that concept raises is will the film just going to be a series of talking heads? So I was thinking about ways to do something inexpensive and yet still make a film that was monologue driven and mostly propelled by speech. I was thinking about different options and of course considered animation. It seems like an obvious tool when you’re making a pedagogical film. I decided I really didn’t want to do that. I decided early on I wanted to make a film devoid of any bells and whistles like that. I wanted to make something very simple and formal.