Friday, October 21, 2005

Spielberg's Shoah Foundation Officially Joins USC


Friday October 21, 2005

Spielberg's Shoah Foundation Officially Joins USC
* The director's archive of visual histories of Holocaust survivors becomes a division of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Steven Spielberg would be there. That's all USC freshman Jason Zeldez needed to know. He and a fellow cinema major hiked across campus Thursday to wait in line outside Bovard Auditorium.

"I don't really know what this is about," Zeldez said. "The Shoah Foundation? I'm not really sure what that is."

Spielberg started the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation on the set of the 1993 movie "Schindler's List" in order to document the life stories of Holocaust survivors (Shoah is Hebrew for "calamity"), and on Thursday the foundation became a division of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Its archive includes 52,000 videotaped life histories, all digitized and searchable by keyword, exhibited in an expanding number of museums and classrooms worldwide.

"Aside from my family," said Spielberg, "it's the biggest thing I've done in my life."

The merger, which came after years of negotiations involving the foundation and a number of universities, is effective in January, with USC promising to preserve and propagate the archive in perpetuity. The annual budget will be about $5 million and will be drawn from USC coffers.

"I've been the lightning rod of this foundation since its inception, and there is a prejudice against figureheads in Hollywood," said Spielberg, a USC trustee. As part of a university, "the Shoah Foundation will be taken much more seriously throughout the world."

The complete archive is viewable on computer systems at universities including USC, Rice, Yale and the University of Michigan, and portions are available to museums, research institutions and schools worldwide.

Access to the archives will expand in coming years, said Douglas Greenberg, chief executive of the Shoah Foundation.

"We intend to expand the focus of what we do, chronologically, geographically and topically. Imagine educational products built around testimonials of Rwandan survivors, Darfurian survivors, even survivors of the Hurricane Katrina. Our larger mission is documenting the experience of the people in the 21st century so that people in subsequent centuries will understand what the world was like."

The ceremony opened with a film depicting images from the Holocaust and other atrocities, and outlining the foundation's methods and mission: "To overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry -- and the suffering they cause -- through the educational use of the foundation's visual history testimonies."

After the lights went up, USC President Steven B. Sample and Spielberg met onstage to applause from the nearly 2,000 people in attendance.

"When I visited the memorial in Auschwitz, I could see that it was, appropriately, about those who died," Sample said. "But the Shoah Foundation is about the living."

USC is the ideal venue for this archive, he said, in part because of its long-standing interest in digital library technology.

"People have been wanting to tell me their stories for years, but it usually involves a lawyer and some kind of a deal," Spielberg joked. "I'm immediately suspicious."

But he recalled feeling greatly moved by the Holocaust survivors who recounted their stories for "Schindler's List," the tale of Oskar Schindler, a Czech businessman who exploited cheap Jewish labor during World War II but also saved more than 1,000 lives during the Holocaust.

"They couldn't tell their stories to their grandchildren or their own children, but they could tell them to a stranger who they thought they could trust," Spielberg said. So he "sent a bunch of video cameras around the world," and the Shoah Foundation was born.

The videos have gone through many manifestations over the last decade. First shot on beta film, the footage was transferred to digital stock and then to computer hard drives. The thousands of hours of footage proved unwieldy, so Shoah Foundation employees devised a method of indexing and cataloging using 30,000 keywords.

"I see the Shoah Foundation 10 years from now as the hub of a wheel with many spokes," Spielberg said after the ceremony. "Each spoke is a different visual history about a different cultural event that changed the world."

Using the videos in education is important, he said. "I would like to see tolerance education taught at every school. Public schools are the tough nut to crack. I would love to see tolerance education as a prerequisite for graduating high school."

As Spielberg and his father, Arnold, left the theater, scores of students and others crowded around them, holding out magazines, movies and pictures for the director to autograph. Bill Moss, a 20-year-old student at Cal State Fullerton was first in line. Afterward, Moss wiped tears from his eyes and smiled.

"The Shoah Foundation videotaped my grandfather, Al Moss, in 1995," he said, holding up the tape that Spielberg signed. "My grandfather raised me like a father. He was the only one of 14 family members to leave Auschwitz alive."

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Protesters Press Quietly for an End to War


Sunday October 09, 2005

Protesters Press Quietly for an End to War
* Activist Cindy Sheehan joins peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh as thousands march at L.A.'s MacArthur Park.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Thousands gathered in MacArthur Park on Saturday morning to advocate for peace -- but left banners and megaphones at home.

Activist mom Cindy Sheehan, whose summer vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch crystallized antiwar sentiment, sat in silence with the others as Buddhist monk and longtime peace advocate Thich Nhat Hanh explained from an open stage: "We don't think shouting in anger can help. If you make people angry and fearful, then you cannot reduce violence and fear.

"When you speak to people, you should speak to them in a language they can understand. By doing that, we can turn our enemies into our friends."

Hanh, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., conceived and organized this "silent peace walk" as a "gift to the people of Los Angeles."

Peace must arise from within the self, he said, before it can spread out across the "collective unconscious" and put an end to conflict and war.

"Walk as if you kiss the earth with your feet, really tenderly, with all your love," he told the crowd. "If you know how to touch the present moment, you will touch the ultimate, you will touch God."

And so approximately 3,000 people rose quietly about 11:30 a.m. and followed Hanh through the cordoned-off streets surrounding the park.

Monks and nuns, many from Hanh's Plum Village monastery in France, walked slowly with the rest. Except for whispers and the occasional cellphone chime, it remained quiet for the nearly two-hour stroll, and even the dozen or so counterdemonstrators along the route let their anti-Hanh signs ("Down With Thich Nhat Hanh") do the talking.

Afterward, participants lounged on the grass surrounding the stage and ate lunch -- in silence.

Monks, nuns and others shared their food with those who had none. Hanh offered a blessing and suggested that each person eat as mindfully as they walked; "Chew each bite maybe 30 times, until the food tastes very good," he said.

"I've been to antiwar rallies where we carry picket signs and march, and it's very aggressive," said Michelle Thomas, a former actor from Westminster, sitting on a grassy hill after the stroll. "This wasn't one of those. I was actually able to feel in the present, something I've never been able to feel before. It just makes me feel that good things are possible."

Hanh's philosophy "is more pro-peace than anti-something," said Patrick Netter, an author who demonstrates fitness gear on TV, sitting nearby. "I'm not religious; I'm more interested in spirituality. What he says resonates with me. I think these things make a difference. Like when you drop a rock into a lake: Concentric circles spread out across its surface."

Ana Gonzalez felt more alienated than transformed, however. "I brought the flag of my country, Venezuela," said the sociologist from Van Nuys, "and one of the monks approached me and told me that I was forbidden to bring a sign. I knew you weren't supposed to bring signs, but this isn't a sign. I just want people to know that Venezuela is a nation of peace and love. I was seeking peace, but I was made to feel like an outsider."

Earlier that morning, before the masses arrived, Hanh sat in a small room in the park's community center chatting with his comedian friend Garry Shandling and a few monks and nuns.

"In France, we do peaceful walking, and people within 30 kilometers report that they feel the feeling of peace," he said. A few minutes later, Sheehan walked in and the two met for the first time. They embraced. And then Hanh continued: "I don't think shouting angrily at government can help us end the war. When we are able to change our own thinking, the government will have to change."

Friday, October 7, 2005

A public forum for the voices of dissent


Friday October 07, 2005

A public forum for the voices of dissent

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

A man wearing a Mohawk and a skull ring on his finger is sitting in a crowded theater in Little Tokyo, explaining American history to the woman next to him. She hasn't read a word of Howard Zinn, if you can believe it. Her thoughts on American history are still based at least in part on that limited canon they teach in schools.

Better begin at the beginning.

"Columbus' first thought was of acquisition," Mohawk explains, and she leans in to listen: Columbus and a string of celebrated white men to follow were responsible for murder and oppression, and these are the long-distant relatives of the imperialist right-wingers now encamped in our White House. "It's worth reading 'A People's History of the United States,' " says Mohawk, as lights dim. "Those are the voices the media doesn't cover. But mostly, it's a heartbreaking story."

And here comes the book's author; at the sight of Zinn, attendees at the sold-out program at the George and Sakaye Aratani / Japan America Theatre erupt in raucous applause, everybody on their feet.

The 83-year-old historian, his brown khakis reaching a little short of his brown loafers, puts on his glasses and then takes them off, shifts his weight from one leg to the other.

"Thank you," he says, then stops as the cheering begins anew. "My name is Howard Zinn."

Kindhearted guffaws translate as: You need no introduction. By the end of the night, booksellers outside will have sold nearly 200 copies of Zinn and Anthony Arnove's new compilation, "Voices of a People's History of the United States," the just-published companion to the original 1980 bestseller and the script for the evening's reading.

This is a book tour event only in the most superficial sense. More important, says Zinn, it's an opportunity to engage publicly with voices of dissent against the established order.

"Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain," he tells the audience. "Not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller."

There are other dissenters here too, of course, including actors who will read aloud passages from "Voices," channeling moments of suffering and bravery through oppression.

Viggo Mortensen of "Lord of the Rings" fame gets the biggest ovation -- his T-shirt reads: "Impeach, Remove, Jail" -- followed by Sandra Oh, Marisa Tomei, Josh Brolin and others. When Danny Glover arrives from LAX halfway through the show, the audience pauses at length to cheer his participation.

Mortensen's text is from Bartolome de Las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus who wrote in detail of the conquistadors: The Christian Spaniards, "with their horses and swords and pikes, began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against [Native Americans.] They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed."

A rhythm sets in, with actors rising and assuming the guise of the outspoken and oppressed. Applause breaks out whenever a word or a phrase has applicability in the partisan debates of today, which is often -- like when Emma Goldman (read by Oh) defines patriotism as "the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers."

In sum, however, the evening moves beyond the mingling of celebrity and political correctness. When not cheering, more than a few audience members reach to wipe their eyes.

This history of the United States is drenched in sweat and blood, in cruelty and genocide, but "I don't go around depressed," Zinn had said earlier.

"I have been involved in enough movements for change to understand that change takes a long time and comes out of persistence. It's a matter of having a long-term perspective, and not expecting that things will change in my lifetime. I have a basic faith in human beings, in a kind of common sense, common decency. When people learn the truth about what is going on, they respond."

On Wednesday evening, the response is deafening.

What began with De Las Casas ended with a rousing speech by Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, Calif., woman whose son was killed last year in Baghdad and has since been demanding a meeting with President Bush and an end to the Iraq war.

Sheehan isn't here in the flesh -- her words are read by Tomei. "I do see hope," Tomei reads aloud. "I see hope in this country. Fifty-eight percent of the American public are with us. We're preaching to the choir, but not everybody in the choir is singing."

At the after-party held nearby, actor participants and famous radical Angelenos mingle with Zinn, who looks exhausted but nonetheless stays until midnight.

Between bites of stuffed piquillo peppers and marinated shrimp, they tell him how much they love his work, love him.

"I'd do anything for Howard," says Brolin, wearing a black motorcycle jacket and blue jeans. "He has a truly incredible spirit and incredible intelligence, and that combination is rare."

"It's one of the great pleasures in my life to have met such a great man," says Leslie Silva, who voiced African American unionist Sylvia Woods. "Somebody who has dedicated his life to people less fortunate than he."

By Silva's side is the man with the Mohawk, her boyfriend, a banjo player named Elijah Anarchist.

He loves Zinn too, Anarchist says, but he paints a less exuberant picture.

"The largest part of this crowd consists of people wanting Viggo Mortensen's autograph," he says. "If you had Emma Goldman and the rest of them here tonight, you'd have had half the crowd. The reason this was as packed as it was? Paparazzi autograph hounds."

It's true -- as soon as Mortensen heads out of the theater, through a side exit, somebody spots him and he's immediately surrounded by autograph seekers, some carrying "Lord of the Rings" paraphernalia. But it's also true that nearby, Zinn finds himself sitting at a table where three times as many people await his autograph and his handshake.