RAVE! Nov 22 2002 | Jeff Favre

Lights, Camera, Philosophy!

The Chain Camera Production facility in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood is roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment.

There are a couple of offices where the living room and dining room should be, with an editing bay and another work area in the bedrooms.

But don't let size fool you. Kirby Dick, the driving force behind Chain Camera, has in the past five years directed and edited three documentaries that have received worldwide acclaim.

His latest, a joint directorial effort with Amy Ziering Kofman (produced by Jane Doe Films) is 'Derrida,' about the life of French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

'Derrida' opened last week and is playing at the Cecchi Gori Fine Arts theater in Beverly Hills.

"Derrida is perhaps the most important living philosopher and one of the two or three most important people in the last 100 years," said Dick, sitting in his Chain Camera office. "And this is the first feature length theatrical film ever made on a world-class philosopher."

The film was Ziering Kofman's brainchild. She discovered the works of Derrida when she was 16 and soon became his student at Yale University. Ten years later, she asked her former teacher if she could make him the subject of a film. He was hesistant, she said, but ultimately agreed.

Ziering Kofman, who had little camera experience, teamed with Dick. For five years they shot 100 hours of film, which has been edited to 85 minutes.

V.A. Musetto of The New York Post called 'Derrida,' "a documentary for people who don't like documentaries," an apt comment for most of Dick's works.

In 1997, 'Sick:The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist,' comprised 90 minutes of footage collected over a two-year period. Flanagan, a performance artist with cystic fibrosis, died during the shooting process, which Dick knew would be part of the film going into the project.

Roger Ebert echoed the sentiments of several critics when he said of 'Sick,' "There are scenes that forced me to look away. But scenes I did watch, if anything more painful."

Of its many honors, 'Sick' won the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

For his next film, 'Chain Camera,' Dick gave 10 high school students cameras to videotape their lives. After a week, they passed the cameras on to 10 others who did the same, until the end of the school year.

Dick took the more than 700 hours and turned it into a 90-minute film that was nominated in 2001 for the grand jury prize for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival - a recognition 'Derrida' also received this year.

Dick rarely shows previous work to the next film's subject. "I want them to have heard about the success of them, but I'd rather they not be so self-conscious," he said. Another technique the director uses to get a more natural response in his choice of cameras. People who see a small camera don't equate it with a "real movie," so they are more likely to be open and honest.

Dick's goal with all his films is to have them earn a theatrical release, which someone such as Derrida into a subject that could appeal to more than philosophy students. He did that by humanizing Derrida through everyday aspects of his life and impromptu conversations, as well as some of his more compelling discussions.

"It is watchable for everyone, but if anything, this film is more for people who have never even read a lot of philosophy," Dick said.