Also on the DVD, in the Q and A section, Derrida halfway jokes and mentions that he didn't exactly ever come right out and tell Amy it was okay to do the documentary on him. On the site for the film, Amy mentions there was a postcard from him that was somewhat illegible. As if she kind of nudged her way in?
She's very good at that.
I'm curious because this was a man who didn't want his photo taken for the public until 1979, and he had some misgivings about his image, and he was private. What do you think allowed her to gain his trust?
This was something that Amy was able to achieve based on her relationship with him. She was a student of his in the 80s, and so, already knew him, if only very casually, before she approached him to make the film. She was, however, very familiar with his work, and he knew that and respected that in her. Finally, I think the reason we were able to gain such access was because of the way Amy established her relationship with him. Most people who interacted with Derrida treated him with deference, often excessive deference, because they held him in such high regard. But although Amy held him in equally high regard, she didn't relate to him deferentially, which I think he both liked and sometimes found difficult. But Amy was very committed to making a major film about Derrida and was very persistent in asking him to give us a kind of access he usually didn't give. At times they clashed, but they always made up and the filming continued. The fact that we were able to film over seven years, albeit only a few days each year, which is a real imposition in anybody's life, is again a testament to her persistence and charm. The reason this film exists at all and that there's such a personal insight into Derrida is because of Amy.
How did you and Amy complement each other? Did you have to work through your own visions and ideas of the finished product?
We certainly had different ideas, but we both had an ambition to make this much more than just an explanation of his work or a standard biographical portrait of him. We wanted the film itself in some way to work through a number of his ideas, to dialogue with his ideas. But because his thinking is so complex, and so non-visual, we weren't sure at first how to achieve that.
So to some degree, you didn't have a clear path. You were trying things, but you were both able to contribute to that vision?
For example, the fact that Amy ended up doing the voice-over. Before I knew the story that people were urging you to have an actor do it, I loved Amy's voice-over. And once I heard the story, I thought it was such a great choice. That you didn't insist to her that an actor should be doing it. I think that's a big part of why the voice-over works. Amy, as a student of Derrida, reading his texts.
In a way, it's one kind of documentation of her relationship with Derrida - you can sense her understanding of his work in the way she reads it, and, in subtle ways, you can sense how important he was to her - certainly Derrida is the author who has had the most influence on Amy's thinking.
How have you felt this week, just on an emotional level? Are you grieving?
Yes, I am.
Maybe that's a little insensitive of me, as it may be an obvious question.
I don't think it's insensitive. No, I am grieving. I'm sad that he is gone. He seemed so healthy when we were filming him only a few years ago. He was traveling a great deal, writing several books a year - it seemed like we could look forward to a decade or more of him continuing to work. But then he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I know his death is even harder for Amy because she had a closer relationship to him. Not that she was close, but she was certainly closer and worked with him for a longer period of time than I did.
How did you hear the news?
Amy called me last Saturday morning.
When was the last time either of you saw Derrida?
Together we saw him in the fall of 2003 when he came to UC Santa Barbara to present a paper at a conference on religion. Amy saw him again only two months ago, in Paris, and spoke to him about the book that is being published on the film and about the piece that he was going to write for it.
He didn't do it?
He wasn't able to do it. He seemed fairly healthy in August, but we started hearing that he wasn't doing very well in September, and it became apparent he wouldn't be able write the piece.
Who's doing the book?
It's being published by Routledge in the US and Manchester University Press in the UK.
Going back to the amount of raw footage, or unused footage you have of Derrida, do you think there's another movie to be made now that he's gone? Could you see doing anything else with it, or is it wrapped?
It's definitely wrapped. When I make my films, I really try to pull every aspect out of the footage that I can. Afterwards, I can see things I would like to change, but I never, so far at least, have had the desire to redo a film. On the other hand, I could see how some of the footage, or parts of this film, could be included and perhaps play a significant role in another film I make. I've actually thought about that some.
But there wasn't a specific thing where Derrida said, Whatever you don't use in this film, I don't want this available? Or an insistence to get rid of what was unused?
No, he didn't feel that way. Even though he seemed to be very controlling in interviews and he had a concern of how he was presented to the media, he was actually very trusting. Before beginning the film, he signed a release with Amy, which he never ran by an attorney. And the clause that was added which gave him the right to review the final film before release, he wrote himself. So no, I don't think he was concerned about what would eventually happen to the unused footage.
From the time you came to the project and your initial impression of Derrida, which I assume came from having read his works, through the course of working with him, did your overall impression change? Was your final impression distinct from your initial one?
Before I met him, I thought he would be reserved and distant. He was actually very charming and personable and wonderful to work with.
And I think that came through in the film.
Yes. His charm came across right from the moment I met him. And everyone who met him commented on that. I also continued to read his work throughout the making of the film and gained a much deeper understanding and respect for him as a thinker.
It enriched the process?
Yes, and somehow that also reflected back on how I related to him in person.
Were you surprised that he liked the film, which he mentions in the Q and A part of the DVD?
I'm not surprised that he liked it. But I am surprised that he said he liked it. [Laughs] He's very self-conscious, especially when it comes to situations where he might appear egotistical.
I liked his humor throughout the film when he did kind of allude to the whole process of the camera being there. There was that sense of almost a tongue-in-cheek attitude about it all.
That's interesting because, initially, when Amy started the project, she hadn't envisioned utilizing those moments. But when the two of us sat down and reviewed what had been shot, we noticed that those moments of humor as well as a very engaging analysis emerged most directly when he was interacting with Amy and I. In these scenes, you are able to see him commenting on the process of making the film, and this brought out an aspect of his personality and his relationship to us that became very rich.
The scene where there is a portrait of him that's been hung in a gallery...
It's now a gallery, but it used to be a hospital, where Charcot, who had a great influence on Freud, who in turn had a great influence on Derrida, did his research on hysteria. So it has a very loaded history.
He was with the artist who did the portrait, right? And you see her and you see Derrida's profile in the film and his portrait in the background.
Right. And Amy asks him, with the artist present, what he thinks of his portrait. This scene is sort of a prequel to the moment after the film's premiere in New York, when, during the Q and A, with us standing beside him, he was asked what he thought of our film. It's the same situation repeated.
And the scenes where we see the over-the-shoulder, from the back shots of Derrida looking at himself on the monitor...
Those were shot by Gil Kofman, Amy's husband, who shot second camera for us on several occasions. It was very fortunate that he was able to get those shots.
What has Amy been working on the last few years and what does she have planned?
She's putting together another documentary about a fascinating and high profile subject who hasn't completely agreed to move forward with the project. Not yet, anyway, but she'll get him to agree.
I was thinking of the "secrets" of Derrida, which are alluded to in the film. What is not going into the archives, whether it's things that have been hidden or destroyed for reasons of privacy. I find that very intriguing because it lends itself back to the idea that we can never have a complete portrait of anyone.
Exactly. That's a desire we all have for a "complete" portrait of someone, for example, the subject in a documentary, but that desire can never be fulfilled for so many reasons - the subjects are holding back. The filmmakers are leaving things out. And then, of course, both are hiding things that they are unaware they are hiding.
Derrida was asked if he was going to see a documentary on a philosopher he studied, what he would want to know, and he responded that he'd want to know about their sexual lives.
We weren't surprised that was his answer, but we were surprised he said that on camera.
What I felt he was really saying was: more about their personal lives. Yet Derrida admitted he didn't want to talk about his own personal life. Human nature, I guess.
Very much so. I mean, some philosophers are much more open about their personal lives - Foucault, for example. But Derrida was very careful about speaking about his personal life, especially about his sexual life. He had a lot of secrets. We knew that. Many people knew that.
I heard about Derrida's death last Saturday. I watched the documentary. And now it's sort of hitting me, perhaps vicariously, maybe a sense of what you might be feeling right now.
It's very sad. It's sad that it was so - he was so young. He was so vibrant. He was getting older, but he was still vibrant.
He was still together?
Yes. Even as late as 1998, when he would come to Irvine he would put on a wetsuit and go swimming in the Pacific Ocean, which is not that warm and often quite rough. We thought about getting a shot of him swimming, but decided against it - it seemed like it would be asking too much of him at his age. But the shot would have been great - he would have looked like Neptune coming out of the water. [Laughs]
Photo of Kirby Dick: Lena Valencia.