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Jake Eberts Brings Gandhi's Message of Non-Violence to the<br>Middle East

Beryl P. Wajsman

21 April 2005

“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


Jake Eberts, a close friend of Institute Council member John Angus, is one of the most accomplished and most prolific producers of motion pictures in the entertainment industry. He has an unparalleled record for quality.

Over the past 24 years, he has been responsible for numerous Hollywood releases that have received, in total, over 60 Academy Award nominations, winning 32 including 4 Oscars for Best Picture: Chariots of Fire, Ghandi, Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves.

In 1992, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada. He currently serves on the Board of the Sundance Institute, host of the world renowned Sundance Film Festival which was founded by Robert Redford in Park City, Utah.


But in the past few weeks Jake Eberts went beyond the world of film and celebrity and accomplished what few in Hollywood even attempt. He boldly made art meet life and bridged the divide between reality and imagination. In so doing he brought new stirrings to the transcendent yearning for redemptive change that many in the Middle East strive for.


After speaking with Mr. Eberts he agreed to let us share the story of this remarkable initiative with all of you because though it has garnered attention from New York to New Delhi it has received almost none, here, in Jake Eberts’ native land.




More than two decades after the movie "Gandhi" filled theaters worldwide, Mr. Eberts and a group of associates organized the first screening of a version dubbed in Arabic. It was shown in Ramallah with the blessing of the Palestinian leadership including Mahmoud Abbas.The screening, at the Palace of Culture, was attended by an audience of several hundred, among them several cabinet ministers.


Mr. Eberts’ partner in this venture is Jeff Skoll, a native Montrealer as well, and the founding president of Internet auction site eBay. Mr. Skoll is the chief sponsor of the project. At the first showing in Ramallah Mr. Skoll told the audience that an important aim of this project is to persuade Palestinians to reconsider the armed uprising.


Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar for his starring role as Mahatma Gandhi, accompanied them. The movie's message, Mr. Kingsley said, was as timely today as when the film was released in 1982. "The force of truth is irreducible, and this is the center of the message." he said at a news conference.


Eberts, Skoll and their fellow organizers of the "Gandhi Project" plan to show the film throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in cities, refugee camps, and villages. Beginning next month, the film will be presented to the large Palestinian refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.


Permission was received from Sony Pictures to show it without charge in Palestinian communities. Mr. Kingsley and the organizers said that their message was nonpolitical, and that they were not trying to take positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was about the message that violence is not an answer.


That message may have hit home to many. Abla Afanah, a teacher in Ramallah said "I think it may be possible to implement Gandhi’s message here." Many of the invited viewers were youths from refugee camps. Several said they were interested in other aspects of the Indian experience like economic self-reliance. But not all were convinced. "He (Gandhi) was a hero because he was loyal to his people. That's what made Indians believe in his peaceful preaching," said Fahima, a resident of the West Bank refugee camp Jalazon. "Our leaders are not so loyal to us.”


Opinion polls have consistently shown that a large majority of Palestinians have supported attacks against Israel as the only way to achieve Palestinian statehood. However, in recent months, Palestinians have generally been supportive of Mr. Abbas, who is calling for an end to the armed uprising and has sought to revive full-fledged peace talks with Israel.


"Gandhi is a model which can be applied anywhere, at any time. His values suit all nations, including Palestinians," said Hanna Elias who produced the Arabic-dubbed version of the film. Whether that is true remains to be seen, but if art imitates life then perhaps in this case life can imitate Eberts’ cinematic art and help everyone overcome their bitterness and distrust and start us all on the road to the “New Jerusalem”.









Jake Eberts has always remained loyal to the idea that cinematic culture can, and should, elevate our conscience and character.  His son David, a documentary film-maker, continues this tradition of commitment. I recently had the pleasure of talking with him about his Academy Award nominated documentary “PRISONER OF PARADISE” that he co-produced with his father.


David Eberts, though not yet thirty, has already been involved in the production and direction of some twenty documentaries. Trained as a director, he began his career in 1996 on a film for Turner Broadcasting in Northern Alaska, 100 miles north of the Artic Circle. After graduating from Boston College in 1998 he worked as an assistant on several films for PBS. This series of documentaries, focusing on the challenges of conflict resolution, brought him to Bosnia Herzegovina, Northern Ireland and England.


After moving to Los Angeles in 1999 David worked on more than 17 documentaries produced for the Discovery Channel, serving as Director of Photography, Assistant Editor and Co-producer. He joined “PRISONER OF PARADISE” in February of 2001 as Co-Producer.


This film is the startling true story of Kurt Gerron, a well known and beloved German-Jewish actor, director and cabaret star in Berlin in the 1920's and '30's. Among his greatest accomplishments, he co-starred with the legendary Marlene Dietrich in the film classic “The Blue Angel”. Gerron also sang Mack the Knife in the original production of “Three Penny Opera”.


Gerron thought his celebrity would protect him, and he ignored the rise of the Nazis. He repeatedly passed up opportunities to follow friends Marlene Dietrich and Peter Lorre whom he had helped escape to America. Ultimately imprisoned at Theresienstadt, Gerron faced the most awful choice of his life: to direct an absurd Nazi propaganda film about the supposed bohemian paradise of the camp--where many artists were interred--or die. Soon after completing the film, Gerron was sent to Auschwitz where he perished.


Though there is certainly no shortage of films examining the horrors of the Holocaust, what makes this documentary so compelling is that it deals with the very personal dilemmas and decisions that individuals must resolve when faced with the incomprehensible. The most human of weaknesses that cloud our judgment: ego, naiveté, and denial. And it examines them through a very personal prism that in some ways brings home the trauma of that period with even more pathos.

“PRISONER OF PARADISE” is not just a story about war; it's a story about the psychology of art and survival. About the imperative to refrain from easy conclusions.  And about the empathy owed to the frailty of caged souls who should never be judged by the free, only remembered with grave delicacy.

“PRISONER OF PARADISE” was made in collaboration with PBS and will be shown this week on the system’s local affiliates in Vermont and northern New York.

David Eberts is now in the planning stages of producing a companion archival film and study guide for use by schools, colleges and institutions. The Institute is proud to be lending assistance to this effort.

Jake and David Eberts have dedicated their talent and their art to the promotion of compassion and the celebration of courage that make the words “Never Again” resonate through our common universality. Their works challenge us to believe that the just society we all seek to build is not in heaven or beyond the sea, but in our hearts to dream and in our hands to forge.


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