Featuring a diverse cast – including celebrated philosophers, trauma surgeons, factory workers, refugees, and politicians – What Is Democracy? connects past and present, emotion and the intellect, the personal and the political, to provoke and inspire. If we want to live in democracy, we must first ask what the word even means.
Interview with Producer Lea Marin
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Astra and I first worked together back in 2006 on her second feature film, Examined Life (EL). We had been trying to find another project to develop since the release of EL in 2008, and it was in 2013 that she approached me with the idea for WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? At that time, Astra had recently been involved in the Occupy Movement, and was interested in exploring many of the questions that were coming up for her through her activism. She first expressed her idea for the film in an email she wrote to me, in which she explained that she wanted “…to make the film that I wish already existed, something that would have helped me navigate and make sense of the current moment of movements, the possibilities and perils of political agitation, and the challenges of making democratic ideals reality”. I was not only compelled by the idea, but excited by the possibility of where the exploration might take us, and most importantly, thrilled to embark on a new project with Astra as a collaborator. Within weeks of my receiving her note, we put the project in to development, and the rest is history.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Making this film revealed to me, how much I personally have taken the term “democracy” for granted. I think you should watch this film because so many of the issues being discussed in the film affect us all. If we care about the society in which we live, then we have to think more concretely about not only what it means to live in a democracy, but about what it can be, and how essential we all are in the path to creating it.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
As a producer, I’ve always thought that the personal is universal. We as viewers are not only able to connect with Astra as she journeys to better understand the term “Democracy”, but we are also able to relate to everyone that speaks to the themes from their own point-of-view, even whether you agree or disagree with that particular viewpoint.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I think the concept, intention and approach are all pretty similar to the initial script for the film. However, the scope of the project changed. We had originally anticipated including issues/themes from several other nations, but this shifted during the course of production. The film is still global in its approach, but much more contained in terms of geography.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The film sparks great dialogue, and the conversations we’ve been having following a screening, or as a result of the film, have been quite thoughtful, inspiring, and often personal.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Astra and I were recently discussing the fact that we’re a bit surprised by people’s ability (and desire) to relate the issues in the film back to their own lives. Most discussions following any particular film screening, are often focused on the film itself, but in this case, there seems to be a need to bring the universal back to the personal, and make sense of ourselves within the larger themes. This is exactly what we’d hoped for, so it’s been quite exciting.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
To continue building audiences and sparking dialogues among as many of the demos as possible.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would say all of the above; the more influencers and ambassadors for the film, the better.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
We, of course, hope that people will respond positively to the film. However, I would say it’s equally as important for the film to push people to think more deeply about the questions raised within the film, and to debate them. An audience is great, but an engaged audience is even better.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
To quote the film, “What does Democracy mean to you?”
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Astra Taylor is completing her companion book to the film titled, Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone. Lea Marin is in production on several projects including, Throat, a metaphysical journey in to the life and art of Tanya Tagaq.
Interview: November 2018
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WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?
Featuring a diverse cast –including celebrated philosophers, trauma surgeons, factory workers, refugees, and politicians – What Is Democracy? connects past and present, emotion and the intellect, the personal and the political, to provoke and inspire. If we want to live in democracy, we must first ask what the word even means.
Length: 107 minutes
Director: Astra Taylor
Producer: Lea Marin
Writer: Astra Taylor
About the writer, director and producer:
LEA MARIN is an award-winning Toronto-based producer with more than 18 years’ experience in the film and television industry. A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Producers’ Lab, Lea joined the National Film Board of Canada as a producer in 2006. Her most recent film credits include Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses, which won the Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs and Astra Taylor’s What Is Democracy?, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018
ASTRA TAYLOR is a filmmaker, writer, and political organizer. She is the director of the philosophical documentaries What Is Democracy?, Examined Life (TIFF 2008), and Zizek! (TIFF 2005); the author of the American Book Award winner The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age; and a co-founder of the Debt Collective. She has written for The New York Times, The London Review of Books, The Guardian, The Walrus, The Baffler, n+1, and many other outlets. She is a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow and a former touring member of the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Her new book, Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone,will be out from Metropolitan Books in early 2019.
Key cast: Cornel West, Silvia Federici, Wendy Brown, Angela Davis, Zoe Konstantopoulou, Henry M. “Mickey” Michaux,
Funders: National Film Board of Canada