Friday, February 27, 2009

Examined Life

During my first autumn in New York City in 2005, I met filmmaker Astra Taylor while shooting an assignment for the Village Voice. I was photographing Granny's Against War, a group of spirited and elderly war protestors who congregated near Rockefeller Center with signs and slogans denouncing the War in Iraq. Astra Taylor arrived with a super-8 camera and a small film crew to capture footage for one of her own films, and we had the opportunity to talk a little. The experience of meeting Astra left a lasting impression on me, and I wondered, who was this amazing woman with such a palpable and electric creative and intellectual energy?

I discovered later that Astra Taylor is the director of the acclaimed documentary, Zizek!, about the world's most famous philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Zizek appears again in Astra's latest film, Examined Life, which premiered on Wednesday at the IFC Center in New York City. I got to see the screening and listen to Astra speak about the film afterwards to an enthusiastic audience of NYC intelligentsia.

Philosophy is again the subject of Astra's film, as she takes to the streets to examine modern culture with influential contemporary thinkers including Cornel West, Peter Singer, and Avitall Ronell. Peter Singer stands outside a Bergdorf Goodman window on 5th Avenue contemplating an expensive pair of shoes and the ethics of consumption - how that same amount of money could have a profound role in improving the life of a child in a struggling country. His comments evoked the many instances I have seen homeless Americans collapsed on the sidewalk outside of Bergdorf Goodman's store and the kind of startling and extreme disparities we witness day-to-day in New York City.

The most intriguing part of Astra's film for me was a dialogue near its conclusion between philosopher and feminist, Judith Butler, and Astra's disabled sister, Sanaura Taylor, who stroll San Francisco's Mission District discussing individualism and issues of gender and differences. The intimacy and exchange between Judith and Sanuara transcended the monologues of the previous thinkers, however stimulating and thought-provoking their ideas were as well.

Examined Life is showing at the IFC Center thru March 5th with appearances by the filmmaker and subjects at selected screenings.

You can watch the trailer at: Examined Life

And find a full list of national screenings at: Examined Life Playdates

You can also find interviews with Astra Taylor at: IFC News and SpoutBlog and Still in Motion

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