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UC IRVINE November 8 2002 | Abel G. Pena

His wild hair invokes Albert Einstein, his calabash pipe Sherlock Holmes. But who, or what, is Derrida?

The new documentary "Derrida" will try to answer, or complicate, that very question when it opens for one week at the Landmark Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, Nov.8.

Directed by Kirby Dick (director, "Sick") and Amy Ziering Kofman (producer, "Taylor's Campaign"), the film focuses on the renowned father of the philosophy known as Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, whose thought, has wreaked havoc in the realms of literary theory and continental philosophy, and who visits UCI every spring to teach.

"I just thought that there should be some sort of cinematic record of him," Kofman said. "I just thought he was such an important and significant and brilliant person that it would be interesting to have footage of him, just as it would be interesting to have footage of any great thinkers."

Once Derrida agreed to the project, Kofman - who had studied with the philosopher at Yale University - went at it alone, completing shoots whenever money allowed between 1994 and 1998. That year, Dick joined the project and filming finally wrapped up in 2002.

"I had actually read a great deal of French theory...so I was immediately intrigued by the project," Dick said. "[Kofman] had established a relationship that allowed her and then us to get the kind of material that normally [Derrida} would never allow to be shot."

That material included Derrida reflecting on the meaning of love and narcissism, forgiveness, his anti-Semitic experiences and answering the tough questions like, " What philosopher would you like to have been your mother?"

"[The film] is really meant for, both, people who have read his work or have read a great deal of philosophy to observe how we construct a film in dialogue with his work and it's also meant for people who may not have read any of his work and very little philosophy to be introduced to his ideas and observe them at play," Dick said.

Both directors cited the special difficulties involved in taking a philosopher, whose body of written work does not translate easily to a visual realm, as a film subject.

"The first problem offhand the film poses is, how do you make any kind of cinematic equation or translation of written text?" Kofman said. "So the first thing that Kirby and I struggled with was, what do you do with that? and how do you serve the work or do it justice or convey the excitement and interest of it but also not reduce it or simplify it or cheapen it in a way by putting it into a visual medium."

The film tries to mimic Derrida's playful intelligence by various means, including voiceovers of Derrida's texts, French interviews with English subtitles, seemingly out of place behind-the-scenes-like sequences and Derrida's own skepticism about documentaries being able to legitimately document anything.

"One of the themes that Derrida's work is intent on is examining particularly how every type of discourse or text or event is always under the influence of historical, institutional, mechanical, linguistic elements that all shape and form its being," Kofman said. "So, likewise, we were just sort of always calling attention to different modes of representation, in a way sort of mining or mimicking that one strand in Derrids's thought."

One scene involves Derrida watching footage of himself watching footage of himself.

"It is definitely one element of a body of thought of how you need to be careful always to be...cognizant of everything being constructed to some degree," Kofman said. "That doesn't mean everything is fake it just means that everything is a product of a certain amount of different mediums and factor that into any equation."

Dragan Kujundzic, an associate professor of comparative literature, who also put together the recent "Derrida Translating Derrida", exhibit at UCI and has been a student and colleague of Derrida's for twenty years, won the golden gate award at the 2002 San Francisco International Film Festival.

"There are very funny moments, [in the film]. In that sense, its more a portrait of the private Derrida," Kujundzic said. "The audience at this festival was really normal people and they were electrified and energized at what they had seen [in the film], because people rarely see outside of the unvierstiy such an intellectual mind."

Kofman and Dick will both be in attendance during the nights screenings "Derrida" November 8 & 9 to field questions about the film and working with Derrida.

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