* A FILM BY LIANNE SONIA WALDEN
THE THEORY OF DERIVE
French for "drift," the dérive was posited by philosopher Guy Debord as a revolutionary strategy for the DISRUPTION and LIBERATION of everyday life by embarking on spontaneous experimental journeys through urban landscapes. Debord was a founding member of Situationist International, a movement of artists, intellectuals, and political theorists derived from Dada and Surrealism. We think those weirdos were onto something! So we're making a film inspired by their ethos of spontaneity and play.
Those who know me know I like to talk to strangers, get lost in cities, and court synchronicity. They know I love the circus because it queers reality and that I’m a Burner and a backpacker (of both the wilderness and the world).
I often wonder how to maintain a sense of openness, presence, and deep engagement outside of those peak experiences. I was struck, therefore, when I came across the theory of "dérive," which Guy Debord and the Situationists experimented with as a means of counteracting the social alienation resulting from late-stage capitalism and other accidents of civilization. Inspired by their ethos, some friends and I started throwing "Mystery Days," during which we would gather at someone's house, lock our phones in a box, and embark on individual dérives, each guided by something as random as a coin toss or as sentimental as the desire to hear a stranger's life story. At the end of the day, we would regroup to share about our adventures, which were nothing short of transformative. It is this essence of moving through the world in a state of heightened presence, curiosity and wonder, and the emergent communities that such a state makes possible, that I hope to inspire through this film.
Dérive is about a queer book publisher who embarks on a Surrealist odyssey (a dérive) throughout NYC to release her ex-wife's ashes at Coney Island, where she encounters an enclave of off-season circus performers who help her ritualize her grief and find catharsis through whimsy. Think Wes Anderson meets Amélie meets High Maintenance with a splash of Fellini thrown in for good measure. The film is a visual treatise on the art of wandering and a cinematic love letter to the oddball characters, serendipitous encounters, and hidden places that make New York City such a spectacular city in which to wander. It is also an invitation to gamify life and a celebration of queer romance. Aesthetically, this film explores the poetic possibilities of cinema by dancing on the precipice of the surreal while remaining grounded in a very human story about grief, reinvention, and connection.
The pandemic forced us to fear contact with one another and lock ourselves away, like the film's protagonist Helene. Now, inspired by the phenomena of mutual aid that emerged during the pandemic, we must re-acculturate ourselves to civic life and re-imagine our relationship to public spaces and the people with whom we share them. May this film inspire you to engage more playfully with your environment, disrupt your routine, and embrace the delightful strangeness of the strangest of strangers.