Documentary, 85 minutes


An Encounter with Simone Weil tells the story of French philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil (1909-1943), a woman Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our time.” On her quest to understand Simone Weil, filmmaker Julia Haslett confronts profound questions of moral responsibility both within her own family and the larger world. From the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War to anti-war protests in Washington DC to captivating interviews with people who knew Weil, the film takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey into the heart of what it means to be a compassionate human being.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” These words, written by Simone Weil, provide the engrossing entry point to the film’s exploration of moral responsibility against the backdrop of 21st-century America. She was a tireless advocate for the poor and unemployed. The filmmaker’s own struggles with suffering (her father committed suicide and her brother battles severe depression) are interwoven with Weil’s dramatic life story to create a deeply moving film.

In her short life, Simone Weil fought in the Spanish Civil War, worked as a machine operator and farm laborer, debated Leon Trotsky, taught high school students and union members, and was part of the French Resistance. The daughter of affluent Jewish parents, she spent her life advocating for the poor and disenfranchised in France and for colonized people around the world, organizing and writing on their behalf. She was a consummate outsider who distrusted ideologies of any kind. Upon her death at 34, Simone Weil left behind a body of work that fills fifteen volumes and establishes her as a brilliant political, social, and spiritual thinker.

In her writings, she analyzed power and its dehumanizing effects, outlined a doctrine of attention and empathy for human suffering, and critiqued Stalinism long before most of the French left wing. She believed intellectual work should be combined with physical work and that theories should evolve from close observation and direct experience. After three Christian mystical experiences, she began grappling with religious faith, its role in human history, and the shortcomings of organized religion. Her best-known works, all published posthumously, are Gravity & Grace, Oppression & Liberty, Waiting for God, and The Need for Roots.

Weil’s ideas have influenced countless people, including Susan Sontag, Graham Greene, and T.S. Eliot. The New York Times described her as “one of the most brilliant and original minds of twentieth-century France.” But by far her biggest advocate was the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, who played a major role in getting her work published after her death. He even made a pilgrimage to her writing room before leaving for Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in 1957. Yet despite these luminary supporters, Simone Weil is a little-known figure, practically forgotten in her native France and rarely taught in universities or secondary schools. The audience is invited to join the filmmaker, Julia Haslett, for a discussion after the screening. A reception will take place after the film.



Julia Haslett, Director/Editor/Producer

Julia Haslett makes expressionistic documentaries about contemporary and historical subjects. She is producer/director of the highly acclaimed Worlds Apart (2003) series about cross-cultural medicine, and producer of the companion hour-long documentary Hold Your Breath (2005), which broadcast on PBS in 2007. Her documentary shorts Hurt & Save (2001), Flooded (2003), Eclipsed (2007), and Pure & Simple (2008) have screened at numerous festivals and galleries. She has worked at WGBH-Boston, the Discovery Channel, and as a filmmaker-in-residence at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics. Haslett was awarded a MacDowell Colony Fellowship to advance her work on An Encounter with Simone Weil, which is her first feature-length film.

Q & A with the Director/Editor/Producer Julia Haslett will take place after the film.
Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Phillip Street


Community Partners 2017