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This article can be found in Issue 5 of Vhcle Magazine.
2011: The Search for Simone Weil
 
 
 
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I asked Anna Brown, one of the characters in my film who is herself, a very committed activist, about how she made it to middle-age with her optimism and well-being intact. She replied - by being in community. It is her community that gives her strength and helps her stand firm in her political and moral convictions. Simone Weil was a firm believer in the individual and herself largely eschewed community. The question is, can you retain your individuality while existing in a functioning community, family, or relationship? Do communities/systems of people always have to grow more dogmatic, coercive, and exclusive over time? I myself struggle with this very question.
 
More than anything, it appears that the mainstream media is falling down on the job and refusing to ask the difficult questions their societal role required of them. Weil's insistence on speaking truth to power and constantly questioning the status quo was what we needed more of at that time, and still do. She also wrote that even if we can't prevent the forces of tyranny from prevailing, we can at least "understand the force by which we are crushed." And in a sense, my documenting of that time was an attempt to do just that. And, if nothing else, preserve a record of it for future generations.
 
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As a director, Julia Haslett gives the viewer a very personal and distinct look into the world of human suffering. She purposefully shifts camera angles to give a very disjointed affect that resonates throughout the film's subject matter, clearly tying this journey of Julia's questions, with Simone Weil's analysis of the answers. An Encounter with Simone Weil strives to be a catalyst for study and research into what humanity can do to find meaning and reconciliation in a world of suffering. The film becomes this fusion of relationships, as the viewer switches between Simone Weil, Julia Haslett, Anna Brown, and several other influential academic and scholarly perspectives on social change. The focus is never to blame but to always ask questions as to why these things happen, and how we can continue to fight for change. Simone Weil constantly fought for social and political change, and Julia Haslett is continuing this battle by revealing how important it is to be informed and become aware of the suffering that is all around us.
 
Julia Haslett's documentary film is set for its North American debut in 2011. And as for Haslett's own struggles, her journey may never end as she continues to direct films that allow viewers to understand and act on the many questions of human suffering.
 
 
 
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Andrew Whitson is a recent graduate at Western Ontario, he’s written for the University newspaper, covering art and music-based events throughout Canada. He hopes to continue writing for publications in an attempt to break into the wide-variety of careers in the journalism market. 
 
Photo courtesy of Julia Haslett, Filmmaker
 
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THE SEARCH FOR SIMONE WEIL
 
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WRITER
ANDREW WHITSON
 
The Search for Simone Weil,
March 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 5, film
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After experiencing the emotional impact of her father's suicide and dealing with the reality of her brother's anxiety and depression, Julia Haslett, a New York City filmmaker, found herself utterly transfixed with the question of human suffering. She began to actively seek an answer for why these terrible events occur. Thus began a journey that would span the globe and ask one of the most heavily debated and philosophical questions of our time: why must humanity suffer?
 
Julia's journey led her to study the many works of Simone Weil, a French philosopher and human rights activist. Simone Weil was a remarkable figure in human history. As a six-year-old child in France during the first World War, Simone saw the destruction and hurt of the French soldiers and gave up eating sugar in an act of solidarity with the soldiers who were not allowed it while on the front lines. For Simone Weil, attention was the greatest form of generosity, and Julia Haslett saw this as an essential piece to the question of human suffering.
 
The nature of Simone’s work prompted Julia Haslett to create a documentary film that follows Simone's experiences and teachings, as well as probe deeper into the human response to suffering. The documentary, An Encounter with Simone Weil, debuted in the most recent International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam to glowing reviews, with one fellow director calling it “essential viewing for 2011”.
 
These are some of Julia's thoughts about the film, and her views on the vast social implications of human suffering (via email correspondence):  
 
In a lot of ways I feel as if the life of the film is just beginning. I had six years of looking for Weil more or less on my own and now I will be able to continue that process with other people (i.e. an audience). I'm looking forward to this part of the process, which I anticipate will open up my understanding of Weil as both a thinker and a person. She's an intense person to spend six years with. At times it was quite lonely, while at other times I took great solace in having her so close. Her moral and intellectual acuity helped me get through the very dark period in which I was making the film, starting in 2004 and the United States' ongoing occupation of Iraq.  
 
Even after creating this film and searching for answers, I'm left with questions unanswered. I'd say the biggest one remains: how do we live compassionately in this world with the knowledge of all the suffering that is occurring simultaneously across the globe? Suffering that necessarily we have to block out from time to time, and suffering that we can't always do anything to ameliorate. It's a fundamental dilemma of the 21st century that is hugely exacerbated by the internet and the sheer speed of communication technologies. It's not that suffering wasn't there before, it's just that we weren't being asked to look at it. And it's much harder to ignore something that you've already seen.
 
 
 
 
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2011