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Filmmaker Seeks Wisdom from Elders


Filmmaker and photographer Andrew Zuckerman says society today has become youth obsessed and is missing out on the wealth of knowledge that comes with years of experience. So he set out in search of that knowledge for his latest project - a book of portraits and interviews, packaged with a 60-minute DVD under the title -- Wisdom.

"It was inspired by a quote by Desmond Tutu," Zuckerman says, "that one of the greatest gifts we can give to another generation is our experience, our wisdom."

The South African Archbishop was also one of 51 people interviewed for the project and played a significant role in securing other interviews.

"I don't know if anybody would have responded to a letter from me," Zuckerman says, "but Desmond Tutu certainly has an enormous amount of connectivity and reach in this world. His help was invaluable in getting the project done."

A year on the road

Zuckerman spent 12 months traveling the globe, logging over 100,000 kilometers, visiting big cities and rural villages, to glean wisdom from elders. He met with statesmen like Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel; artists like American Andrew Wyeth and South African Esther Mahlangu; musicians like Willie Nelson and Dave Brubeck; primatologist Jane Goodall; and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

"I think the word wisdom is not easily defined and it is certainly not categorically definable," Zuckerman says. "I knew that I would need to assemble a group from as many perspectives as possible."

Every elder -- from Senator Ted Kennedy to Nigerian author Wole Soyinka was filmed with the same plain white background, because Zuckerman wanted viewers to focus on the person and what they had to say.

"I wasn't interested in the things they had done. I wasn't interested in a statesman in his office or a writer in front of his book or an artist with his paintings. It was about the essence of these people and their perspective on life."

The wisdom shared by Zuckerman's subjects is presented in a book illustrated with more than 100 color portraits and a 60-minute DVD which accompanies it.

"And the way that the book is created is that they are singular experiences, almost as if each subject has his own chapter," Zuckerman says. The film is grouped by theme: work, love, the environment and conflict resolution.

Elders' wisdom covers wide range

Some elders speak primarily on the subject for which they are best known. Sitarist Ravi Shankar, for example, says, "I never try to impart wisdom, because I feel I don't have much, really. But I do love to share the passion, the love, the ecstasy through my music."

Musician Graham Nash - of Crosby, Stills and Nash -- however, shares his broader philosophy for life: "Life is not perfect. It never will be. You just have to make the best of it and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you."

Former tennis champion Billie Jean King offers observations about competition, but also advice on living green: "Start using the same bag every day that you can wash. Don't run the water. Take shorter showers. Try to walk more. Try to go on a bicycle more.

And U.S. artist Chuck Close talks not only about painting, but also his marriage of 40 years to the same woman.

"It's not one marriage; by then you've had four or five totally different marriages," he says. "You hope you evolve in similar ways, in compatible ways."

British author Rosamunde Pilcher talks about the secret of aging well: "You don't stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things."

Zuckerman notes that all of the elders he interviewed for Wisdom live by that advice.

"All of these people, because they have continued to stay active, they've made important contributions to society and they've continued to go on for a long time," he says.

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