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THE IMPOSSIBLE PURSUIT OF
THE ORIGINS OF KNOWLEDGE

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Synopsis

‘To act is to begin something new’ said Hannah Arendt, one of the greatest thinkers of all time who passed away in 1975 and who coined the concept of the ‘banality of evil’. In this bombastic film, learn about the thinking processes and mechanisms of activism and risky thoughts. A most urgent film unravelling some of the reasons why Trump, Le Pen and others have captured people’s imaginations by reviving past ideologies. From dangerous plots to dangerous actions, you hear about our collective fears both past and present but also encounter the contemporary monsters and actors of the future: the humanoids. Your guide in this adventurous journey is the alternative educator Nelly Ben Hayoun, who armed with puppets and dressed as Hannah Arendt, teases the greatest thinkers of our age whilst challenging them to an impossible pursuit; the search of the origins of knowledge.

I am (not) a monster features: political activist Noam Chomsky, Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Hannah Arendt’s students: Arjun Appadurai, Leon Botstein and Richard Bernstein, nonsense artist Novbumichi Tosa of Maywa Denki, robot maker Hiroshi Ishiguro, Japanese Living National Treasures: Bunraku puppeteer – Kanjuro Kiritake II, kimono master – Takayuki Takahashi, Noh Theatre master – Hisa Uzawa, Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid, cyborg artist Neil Harbisson and many more – students, alternative schools and brilliant thinkers.

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The Cast

Noam Chomsky
Philosopher and Professor of Linguistics, University of Arizona
Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova
Activist, Pussy Riot
Magid Magid
Lord Mayor of Sheffield
Arjun Appadurai
Hannah Arendt's Student and Professor of Anthropology
Efrem Amare
Director of The National Museum of Ethiopia
Neil Harbisson
Cyborg Artist
Tosa Novmichi
Maywa Denki, Nonsense Artist
Hisa Uzawa
Noh Theatre Lead Performer, Japan’s Living National Treasure
Richard Bernstein
Hannah Arendts Student and Philosophy Professor at The New School
Leon Botstein
Hannah Arendt's Student and President of Bard College
Shishido Hiroyuki
Shinto Priest and Rapper
Brewster Kahle
Director of the Internet Archive
Metasebia Endalamaw
Curator of The National Museum of Ethiopia
Kanjuro Kiritake II
Bunraku Puppetry Master, Japan’s Living National Treasure
Adrienn Almásy
Curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum
Allan McRobie
Professor in Engineering, Cambridge University
Samantha Hill
Assistant Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities
Roger Berkowitz
Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, Bard College
Hiroshi Ishiguro
Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory
Erica
Humanoid
Hiroshi Ishiguro
Humanoid
Sarah Steele
VR Program Manager at Google
Takako Furukawa
Hypnotherapist
Takayuki Takahashi
Kimono Master, Japan’s Living National Treasure

Additional Contributors

Seth Shostak
Senior Astronomer, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute
Duygu Ozturk
Costume Designer
Anthony Bersanne
Tour Guide, Lascaux Caves
Adam Teskey
Manufacturing Director, The Vinyl Factory
Douglas Vakoch
President of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute
Isabelle M. Germano
Professor of Neurosurgery
Emma Dabiri
Social Historian, Writer and Broadcaster
Joe Speicher
Executive Director of the Autodesk Foundation
Kazuhiko Komatsu
Director-general of International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, Yokai expert and Professor
Marina Gorbis
Director of The Institute for the Future
Matthew Werth
Director RVNG International
Sohi Lawrence
Principal at the Tokyo Community School
Natsume Soseki
Humanoid
Wendy Scheir
Director of The New School Archives
Terukazu Morikawa
Hannah Arendt expert : Kyoto University Professor
Joe Earle & Cahal Moran
Economists, Authors of The Econocracy

Main Production

Bob Weisz
Visual Effects
Marie Otsuka
Producer (Japan)
Tearlach Byford-Flockhart  
Camera Operator (USA)
Yasu Hirai
Sound Recordist (JAPAN)
Hugo Stepanian
Sound Recordist (FRANCE)
Cliff Rossitter
Sound Design Post Production
Colm O’Rourke at Sonic Films
Colour Grading post production
Franck Marchis
Scientific Consultant

Q&A With Director

Why did you do this film?

When not directing this film, I run a tuition free postgraduate university in Amsterdam and London in the basement of nightclubs. There my colleagues and I, teach students how to use a plurality of disciplines and thoughts (ie; film, music, design, politics, theatre and linguistics) to reveal and shift power structures in institutions. This university was founded in 2017 as a charity with a set of partners in crime including activists and scholars Noam Chomsky, Arjun Appadurai or Nadya of Pussy Riot who feature in the documentary. My students are part of the reason why I started the film, as I felt that I needed to build a federation of partners around our educative structure, to demonstrate to them the importance of the act of thinking and the need for plurality of thoughts and transnational education. When we created the University of the Underground, we also received critique around the model we proposed to fund higher education. As a response, I decided to make a film that will advocate on behalf of critical thinking, action and plurality- some of my students also feature in the movie. 

What was your approach directing this film?

For the past 10 years, I have developed my practice as a ‘designer of experiences’ using events and actions to modify existing systems in institutions, I have worked with the United Nations, with federal agencies like NASA and governments to prove the need and impact of such creative and plural approaches in the institutions and the workforce. Alongside this, I have produced and directed two feature length documentaries prior to I am (not) a monster. So when I created this specific film- that revolves around education and the means by which knowledge exists, I approached it from my original background. Indeed, I was trained in textile design and kimono making in Japan, and than went on to study design and then finally political philosophy and human geography.
I reached out to all of the film contributors on the basis of their experiences or knowledge in one specific area of research around thinking, activism or making; performing identities (i.e.: Bunraku and Noh Theatre). All of the contributors are introduced as partners in crime, but also recognised as ‘oracles’, bringing us each time closer to the ‘origins of knowledge’, its mechanics and power structures. 

What were are the core ideas introduced in this film? Why is it ‘most urgent’?

The film introduces some of my core beliefs in thinking through experiences, experimental actions and independent education; namely for me: 1)-education should be free and we should make our own economic systems to maintain it ; 2)- education should exist beyond nation states as a transnational entity- independent from governmental politics; 3)- schools have to maintain plurality both in their approach but also in leadership. 

It is a most urgent film as it is advocating for transnationalism (no more nation states) and plurality in education and beyond in the reminiscence of totalitarianism temptations and ideological policies with Trump, Le Pen and now Bolsonaro in Brazil. It is introducing these complex and urgent notions with humour and reenactments. In this context, it is important to address plurality in thinking, now more than ever, since the temptation for ideological regimes are making a fierce revival in society. Hannah Arendt and her writing in this context is therefore incredibly relevant as she reminds us what happened with authoritarian regimes during the Second World War but also our capacity to banalize the evil and to forget the importance of thinking in our modern bureaucracy, educative and political systems. I stand- more than ever- behind this film. It is my third feature, and as a woman filmmaker brought up in a family of immigrants (my dad is born in Algeria and my mum in from Armenian descent); it also expresses my strongest belief that nation states have to be questioned as a format and that to consider a transnational form of education is now more than ever urgent and necessary.

What are you trying to achieve with this film? And what are the other means and platforms by which one can experience the ideas introduced in the film?

As part of the film, I met the directors of other schools in an attempt to create a federation of transnational schools over the globe following the release of the film.
I hope to actively build this network of schools, organised communities and individuals with the film release, by introducing debate and active discussions with the films’ contributors and members of the audience, but also students and parents. We are also developing multi-platform events (ie: live performance, installation, debate, dinner, workshops, concert and DJ sets) with the University of the Underground’s collaborators, universities and nightclubs as a part of the films release.  Music is also central to the film. I worked with Matt Werth, who leads an independent Brooklyn based electro label called RVNG International, with an international roster of electro musicians from Japan, Colombia, USA and more. We are also working on a record in collaboration with our friends at the Vinyl Factory in the UK, which will host a set of ‘dangerous thoughts’ recorded whilst creating the film with the contributors of the film. And there were many- we interviewed more than 54 individuals and thinkers for this film. All of these assets will be exhibited in collaboration with our partners in Holland, at art institute MU, and in Belgium at Z33, house for contemporary arts, but also many other places- all of this will be announced and released on this website! So keep watching this space!

Contact

For I Am (Not) A Monster’s general inquiries, marketing and press requests please contact us at admin@nellyben.com

For I Am (Not) A Monster’s general inquiries, marketing and press requests please contact us at admin@nellyben.com 

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