In 1942, at the height of World War II, Martin Heidegger, the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century, delivered a series of lectures on The Ister, Friedrich Hölderlin's poem about the Danube River, which referred to the waterway by its ancient Greek name.
Heidegger had achieved worldwide fame in 1927 for his philosophical magnum opus, Being and Time. In 1933, Heidegger embraced the National Socialist 'revolution,' becoming rector of Freiburg University. His inaugural address culminated in "Heil Hitler!" After clashing with the Nazi bureaucracy, however, he resigned the rectorate in 1934.
Eight years later, as the tide of the war was turning against Germany, Heidegger spent the summer semester lecturing on the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, focusing on his poem The Ister. Rather than an esoteric retreat into the realm of aesthetics, Heidegger's lectures directly addressed the political, cultural and military chaos facing Germany and the world in 1942.
THE ISTER takes up some of the most challenging paths in Heidegger's thought, as we journey from the mouth of the Danube River in Romania to its source in the Black Forest. However controversial Heidegger remains, his thought remains alive in the work of some of the most remarkable thinkers and artists working today, four of whom discuss the contemporary social relevance of Heidegger, including Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, and filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.
Winding through the shattered remains of the former Yugoslavia, through a Hungary busily restoring its national mythology, and through a Germany that is both the heart of the new Europe and the ghost of the old one, the Danube itself is the question of the film. In addition to its mentally stimulating, at times even challenging, philosophical discourse, THE ISTER features stunning natural vistas along the nearly 2,000-mile length of one of Europe's major rivers, as well as ancient Greek ruins, the Mauthausen concentration camp, Yugoslavian bridges devastated by NATO bombings, and King Ludwig's Walhalla temple.
By drawing the places and times of the river into a constellation with Heidegger's thought, THE ISTER invites the viewer to participate in some of the most provocative questions facing Europe and the world today. These questions-of home and place, culture and memory, of technology and ecology, of politics and war-concern us today just as much as they did Heidegger in 1942.
"A probing, evasive meditation on time, culture and change, images and actions, and the necessity for both."—Film Comment
2005 Heidegger Symposium, University of Dallas
2005 WaterWays Conference on the Confluence of Art, Science, Policy, & Philosophy
Best Film, Quebec Film Critics, 2004 Montreal Intl Festival of New Cinema
Le Prix du Groupement National des Cinémas de Recherche, 2004 Marseille Intl Documentary Festival
2004 Rotterdam Intl Film Festival
2004 Vancouver Intl Film Festival
"An impressive philosophical exercise and a meditative work of cinematic beauty."—Jamie Russell, BBC
"A rich, dense and exhilarating series of connections, arguments and ambiguities. The film is full of historical associations and references, but it is a work in the present tense, a documentary with a sense of immediacy and inquiry, a film about past and present that makes use of cinema's power of associations, its ability to show the tangible, material aspect of things."—The Age
"Exposes some of the most powerful transformative currents and possibilities at play in the philosopher's reading of the Western tradition...THE ISTER'S thoughtfulness lies in its encounter of Heidegger's thought in awareness of the impossibility, the loss, and the concrete differences in which philosophical thinking finds its configurations. Wth their visually articulate commentary, Barison and Ross have made a unique contribution to the critical articulation of Heidegger's thinking, this in a time when images seldom engage thought and words often seem insufficient in their articulation of thought's movement in its loss and difference."—Alejandro A. Vallega, Director of the Collegium Phaenomenologicum and Author of 'Heidegger and the Issue of Space: Thinking on Exilic Grounds'
"A revelation! The best and most significant Australian feature of the year thus far... could well become a milestone in a new era of autonomy and creative freedom in the Australian cinematic landscape."—Senses of Cinema
"Possesses a visual beauty that's rare in the documentary field... An impressive cinematic tribute to the river from which it takes its name."—Tom Dawson, Channel 4 (UK)
"A stimulating three-hour journey in time, space and the mind."—Philip French, The Observer