Randall Wood is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Brisbane, Australia. I caught up with him near the start of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival sitting outside in front of the Grand Tetons in full fall glory. We talked about protecting journalists in the documentary process, his latest film Worm Hunters, Laurie Anderson and the power of words, and the power of music in shaping a film. He was first trained as a classical pianist and composer. He started by talking about his current film in process called The Grammar of Happiness. You can see the trailer for this film here.
RW This is a great project for the Smithsonian Channel and ABC in Australia and Arte in France. It’s a film about language and a debate that’s occurring at the moment internationally about grammar theory.
ML What is the debate?
RW Well, the debate has been raging for about five years and it’s between Chomsky and his followers, of which there are many, who believe in a universal grammar, and Dan Everett and a number of other people who say his theories are flawed because of Dan’s findings with the Pirahã people in the Amazon. He says their language is so completely different that it flies in the face of Chomsky’s theory. That’s the baseline but the story itself is of a missionary who went up the Amazon to convert a tribe to Jesus and instead got converted by them after many years of working with them, to atheism, after trying over many years to convert the Bible into their language. So he became an atheist and left his missionary work and became an academic and quite well-respected. He wrote a book called Don’t Sleep. There are Snakes.
ML How would you summarize Chomsky’s theory?
RW Ah. Put me on the spot! Basically talking about a universal grammar saying that we are, as humans, born with the ability to speak with recursion.
ML What’s recursion?
RW Recursion is Continue reading