The Pleasure of Philosophy: An Interview with David Barison on the Ister

By Cancela, Lorena | Framework, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Pleasure of Philosophy: An Interview with David Barison on the Ister


Cancela, Lorena, Framework


Generally speaking, The Ister is a film about a lecture by Martin Heidegger on Holderlin's poem "The Ister." However, The Ister can also be regarded as a film about recent European history, as well as a reflection on technique, a contrast between nature and culture, a journey into the heart of Western culture, and questions about cinema and responsibility. The Ister is an organic film, a look into forms of existence-material and symbolic-beyond our everyday matters and physical necessities. Above all, The Ister is a film that embraces one feeling: the feeling that our existence is too small in the face of history. When a film puts together the sublime with the ordinary, horror with beauty, the physical with the psychic, and the organic with the inorganic, it takes the risk of being shallow; of being too postmodern. But through The Ister's three hours, we understand that the film is only a beginning, an intersection in culture. Not all the films made by new technologies (such as digital cameras) are good examples of new alternatives to mainstream movies or good examples of new contents. But in The Ister's case, the communion of new forms with the new process of making a movie is complete. It is hard to conceive how this film could have been made if the filmmakers had not had access to digital technology. The result is a captivating narrative, far from any conventional tone, that emerges in a variety of elements: from the film's length, to its atypical frames, to its long-takes. These elements create a nice sensation: the sensation of being captured by fluent thoughts. The film is a trip and, in some moments, it feels as if we the spectators are also travelers of that trip.

This fascinating movie-made by David Barison and Daniel Ross, two Australians who reside in Melbourne-follows a journey up the Danube River, and is intercut with important testimonies by different philosophers, artists, and thinkers who are asked to reflect on Heidegger. The curiosity with which the filmmakers observe them is close to the view of a child, questioning renowned people with the same patience as unknown ones. In these conversations we can find various schools of thought, tendencies, currents, and approaches to our contemporary time, like those of Jean-Luc Nancy, Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, Hans Jurgen Syberberg, and one of the most enlightening presences, the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler.

In the pages that follow David Barison puts forth that the possibility of cinema is everywhere. I would add that the possibility of philosophy is everywhere too, as the film shows. In this interview with David Barison, I talked to him about the process of making the film, about the controversial German philosopher at its center, about cinema and images, and about the pleasure of philosophy among many other things. But I still feel that we said too little.

Lorena Cancela: When did the idea begin?

David Barison: In general, in 1998. It grew over thousands of cups of coffee with Daniel Ross, with whom I made the film. We both attended the local cinematheque very regularly in Melbourne, and I had decided to dedicate myself to films. He was in the middle of his Ph.D. in philosophy, and I had done my Honors in political philosophy with the same supervisor, Dr. Michael Janover, who has a strong interest in Heidegger. He is an extraordinary academic, and an extraordinary reader of texts.

LC: When did the idea of doing a documentary about Heidegger take form?

DB: We didn't really ... the word documentary never really came up. There are a few films that we though about and that we discussed in relation to what we were doing. One of them was London [UK, 1994] by Patrick Keiller. He is an architect and this film was made in the nineties. It's made up of still shots, the camera just sitting still in front of various places around London, and it's an essay about a kind of imaginary character, about travelling through London. …

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