Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 6, 2010

Philosophers on tape: A different kind of Caxton speaker

At 31, Astra Taylor has four documentaries under her belt. The director/producer/writer will speak this Friday in the Round Room at 4 p.m.

Taylor’s work is being studied in Women in Film, a course offered by the English department.

Class member junior Michelle Gerber looks forward to Taylor’s presentation. Gerber particularly anticipates words from the director detailing her ability as a young woman to navigate subjects dominated by older males.

“She’s young and she’s dealing with these huge topics, with these people who are really well established so they have lots to say,” said Gerber.

Born in Canada and raised in Georgia, Taylor has held teaching positions at the University of Georgia and State University of New York, New Paltz.

Taylor specializes in sociology and that is reflected in her films. In 2001, Taylor spent two months in southern Senegal co-producing and directing The Miracle Tree: Moringa Oleifera, a project commissioned by an international non-governmental organization to record the efforts of a local project to alleviate infant malnutrition.

One year later, Taylor associate produced Persons of Interest, a feature documentary directed by Allison Maclean, director of the 1999 film Jesus’ Son based on the novel of the same name by Denis Johnson. Persons of Interests archives the detention of Muslims and Arabs after September 11. The film was an official selection at the 2004 Sundance, Rotterdam and Human Rights Watch film festivals and won the Amnesty International Humanitarian Award at the Chicago International Documentary Film Festival.

Taylor’s more recent works focus on philosophy. Zizek!, a film about philosopher Slavoj Zizek, premiered in 2005. Examined Life premiered in 2008 with a companion book published in 2009.

Examined Life features eight philosophers (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt, Martha Nussbaum, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Sunaura Taylor, Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek) speaking in everyday settings rather than lecture halls.

“She’s tackling this large subject of philosophy. She wants to see what it’s like to capture philosophy in film,” said Gerber of Taylor’s works. “That’s really ambitious.”

Examined Life and Zizek are currently available on reserve in Seymour Library.

Sarah Colangelo

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