Astra Taylor

Documentarian

Hidden Driver Productions

Documentarian Astra Taylor has brought a philosophical bent to non-fiction filmmaking and is looking to push the form in new and exciting directions. Taylor was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1979 and grew up in Athens, Georgia. She studied first at the University of Georgia and then got an M.A. in sociology, philosophy and cultural theory at the New School for Social Research in New York. In 2001, she co-produced and co-directed the 45-minute documentary Miracle Tree: Moringa Oleifera, about infant malnutrition in Senegal, and the following year acted as associate producer on another doc, Allison Maclean’s Persons of Interest (2004), which looked at the treatment of Arabs and Muslims following the 9/11 attacks. Taylor made her feature debut with Žižek!, a portrait of Slavoj Žižek, the inimitable “Elvis of cultural theory;” the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005 and was released in the U.S. by Zeitgeist later the same year to glowing reviews. Taylor, who is married to Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum, currently runs Hidden Driver Productions with fellow filmmaker Laura Hanna.

With her sophomore feature, Examined Life, Taylor once again brings together her two main passions: film and philosophy. The title is derived from a quote by Socrates (who deemed that “the unexamined life is not worth living”), and over the course of the film Taylor introduces us to eight contemporary philosophers who delve into the issues and problems of the modern world. Though Cornel West talks to Taylor as they drive around New York, the other seven participants – Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, Sunaura Taylor and Žižek – hold forth on foot, as Taylor conceived the film as “philosophers on walks.” Going against the norm of “serious” documentaries tending to be depressing, Taylor here creates a film of substance that is nevertheless light on its feet. Neither the walking philosophers nor their conversations stop for a moment during Examined Life, so the result is physically and mentally energetic piece of filmmaking. And as the ideas in Taylor’s film are engaging and thought-provoking without being overly complex, we are left invigorated rather than bamboozled.