Coming at a moment of profound political and social crisis, What Is Democracy? is director Astra Taylor’s philosophical essay finding meaning in the word ‘democracy’ we too often take for granted.
Astra Taylor’s (Zizek! and Examined Life) idiosyncratic, philosophical journey spans millennia and continents: from ancient Athens’ groundbreaking experiment in self-government to capitalism’s roots in medieval Italy; from modern-day Greece grappling with financial collapse and a mounting refugee crisis to the United States reckoning with its racist past and the growing gap between rich and poor. The acclaimed documentary, which made its North American premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, will enjoy a theatrical release via Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber starting Jan. 16, 2019, at IFC Center in New York followed by theatrical engagements nationwide.
Featuring a diverse cast—including celebrated theorists, trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, and former prime ministers—this urgent film connects the past and the present, the emotional and the intellectual, the personal and the political, in order to provoke and inspire. If we want to live in democracy, we must first ask what the word even means.
“More than anything else, What Is Democracy? is an invitation to think,” said Taylor. “We live in overwhelming, confounding times and are bombarded by information and bad news. My hope is that this film opens a contemplative space, allowing the viewer to consider the challenge of ruling ourselves from a variety of angles.”
Appearing in the film are: Cornel West, a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University; Angela Davis a political activist and professor emeritus at the Department of History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, regarded as one of the foremost figures in the struggle for human rights and against racial discrimination; Professor Wendy Brown (University of California, Berkeley), whose fields of interest include the history of political theory, 19th- and 20th- century Continental theory, critical theory and theories of contemporary capitalism; Silvia Federici, a researcher, activist, and educator and Emerita Professor at Hofstra University; Zoe Konstantopoulou, the leader of the Course to Freedom political party and a former President of the Greek Parliament, who is also a lawyer specializing in national, European and international criminal law, public international law and human rights; Henry M. “Mickey” Michaux, Jr., who in 1972 became Durham County’s first black representative in the North Carolina state legislature, and is also the longest-serving member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.
ASTRA TAYLOR (Director) is a filmmaker writer, and political organizer. She is the director of the philosophical documentaries What Is Democracy? (TIFF 2018), 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.