Posted by Danielle Berrin
When Hollywood’s biggest stars rushed to the defense of Tel Aviv after a boycott at the Toronto International Film Festival, it felt sweetly vindicating. But I can’t claim the same tinge of pride watching Hollywood lobby on behalf of Roman Polanski—an admitted child rapist.
In a refreshing bit of perspective, Keli Goff explains on the Huffington Post why situations like these alienate conservative-minded middle America from the so-called “Hollywood liberal elite.” Of course, she straight up blames “Weinstein and Polanski”—as in Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Company, who initiated a free-Polanski petition which was then signed by hotshot directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, and, Polanski himself, for fleeing from justice more than thirty years ago.
I used to think that when conservatives denounced the so-called “Hollywood liberal elite” as being essentially amoral and out of touch with real Americans, they were being a bit harsh. And when Sarah Palin implied that middle America was somehow more sensibly American than those of us sin-lovin’-anti-religion-anti-America-fancypants-big city folk—I genuinely wondered what gave her (and some of my extended family in Middle America who appear to agree with her) such an idea.
Thanks to Harvey Weinstein and Co., now I know.
While our country is engulfed in two wars, struggling to climb back after falling off of an economic cliff last year and trying to find a way to provide health care for nearly fifty million uninsured Americans, I am glad to see that some of Hollywood’s elite, (including Mr. Weinstein and Woody Allen, among others) have found a truly important cause worth fighting for: defending an alleged pedophile.
She has a point. Admittedly, this is probably not the best use of Weinstein’s time, as Goff deftly points out: “Shouldn’t Mr. Weinstein be more focused on saving his troubled studio than saving an aging fugitive?”
But even if you can’t agree with Weinstein’s support of a pedophile, you have to admire his blind loyalty—especially in a business where bonds are easily broken for opportunity. The sense of tribal allegiance to Polanski by much of Hollywood’s boys’ club is actually quite admirable—nevermind their sexual mores, the important thing is that they share them.
“My first thoughts upon learning that Mr. Weinstein was circulating a petition on behalf of Mr. Polanski were: Finally! Hollywood finds a cause the average American can get behind,” Goff writes and then adds, “When Woody Allen is coming to your defense in a case involving alleged sex with a teenager…well, that’s a punchline that writes itself.”
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September 29, 2009 | 8:39 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
How did Roman Polanski, one of the world’s acclaimed directors—and a Holocaust survivor—become an international fugitive?
At least he was one, until last Sunday, when Swiss authorities caught up with Polanski in Zurich and arrested him for a sex crime that occurred 32 years ago. Now, Polanski sits in a Zurich prison, awaiting possible extradition to the United States where he faces sentencing for a 1977 conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Polanski pleaded guilty to the charge more than three decades ago before fleeing the U.S. for France, where he has resided since.
Polanski’s arrest has inflamed the Hollywood community and upset international filmmakers from New York to China. Apparently, a crime isn’t a crime once enough time has passed. After it was announced that the director of “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and the Oscar-winning “The Pianist” would be detained in Switzerland indefinitely, while he fights extradition, film directors rallied with an international petition demanding his release. According to ABC News, directors Woody Allen, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar and Darren Aronofsky are among the signatories. In addition, Entertainment Weekly has recently reported that “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner is producing a follow-up to the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which chronicles the details of the sex case and alleges judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.
And of course, there’s Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, now 45, but a tender 13-years-old when Polanski drugged and raped her, who has also petitioned that the case be dropped. In 2003, Geimer told the Honolulu Star that she forgave Polanski and wanted the media attention to go away: “Straight up, what he did to me was wrong,” Geimer said. “But I wish he would return to America so the whole ordeal can be put to rest for both of us. I’m sure if he could go back, he wouldn’t do it again. He made a terrible mistake but he’s paid for it.” According to The First Post, a British weekly, Geimer re-entered the public eye when the documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” about the infamous sex case, premiered earlier this year. In an interview, she again absolved Polanski of any wrongdoing: “I think he’s sorry, I think he knows it was wrong. I don’t think he’s a danger to society. I don’t think he needs to be locked up forever and no one has ever come out ever - besides me - and accused him of anything. It was 30 years ago now. It’s an unpleasant memory ... (but) I can live with it.”
Understandably, Geimer wants to put the case to rest almost as badly as Polanski does—but the Los Angeles district attorney’s office just won’t have it. According to some reports, Polanski’s boastful lawyer triggered a determined response from the county. According to the New York Daily News:
In paperwork filed as part of his bid to get 31-year-old rape charges dropped, Polanski’s lawyers said the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office wasn’t really trying to hunt him down.
The Los Angeles Times reported that this claim “caught the eye” of prosecutors and prompted them to plot an end to Polanski’s three decades as a fugitive. But the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office contends it has been trying to nab the filmmaker since he fled 30 years ago - including once in Israel as recently as 2007.
Prosecutors released a list Monday detailing their efforts to nab the director since 1978. They sought arrest warrants for Polanski in England, Thailand and France, they said.
Law enforcers will not be dissuaded from having their day in court, but popular opinion is increasingly in support of a Polanski reprieve. In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.” Mitterrand is referring to Polanski’s turbulent personal history. Polanski was born in WWII-era Paris to a Polish Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother. His family moved to Poland in 1936 and was living in Krakow when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. The family was then forced into the Krakow Ghetto and Polanski’s parents were soon deported to separate concentration camps. According to Wikipedia, his father survived the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, but his mother perished in Auschwitz (Polanski’s maternal grandfather was Jewish and his maternal grandmother, Roman Catholic; in some circles, his mother’s Judaism would be disputed, but the religious disparity was not enough to save her life). In 1943, Polanski escaped the Kraków Ghetto with the help of Polish Roman Catholic families and eventually reunited with his father. Another personal torment occurred in 1969, when Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family.
Considering his troubled past, it’s hard to blame Polanski for seeking freedom. He has already lived inside the confines of a prison and perhaps fear of reliving that particular nightmare prompted him to flee.
September 27, 2009 | 6:04 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Swiss authorities arrested the film director Roman Polanski as he arrived at Zurich’s airport, paving the way for his possible extradition to the United States in connection with a 32-year-old sex case, reported today’s New York Times.
Prosecutors in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles have sought Polanski, 77, for sentencing under his conviction for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, in 1977. According to The Times:
The arrest came as a shock to Mr. Polanski and those who have worked closely with him both on movies and in a continuing attempt to lift the outstanding arrest warrant against him. He had just finished shooting a film in Germany and has traveled often to Switzerland, where he maintained a home.
In Paris, the French culture minister, Frederic Mitterand, said in a statement that he was “astonished” by the arrest. In a separate statement, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said he had spoken with his Swiss counterpart, and communicated “the desire of the French authorities that the rights of Mr. Polanski be fully respected and that this affair rapidly find a favorable resolution.”
The Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement that Mr. Polanski, the renowned director of such celebrated films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” was put in “provisional detention” pending extradition based on the United States arrest warrant. “Whether Roman Polanski will be effectively extradited to the USA or not can be established only after the extradition process judicially has been finalized,” the statement said. The ministry’s statement added that Mr. Polanski could fight extradition in various courts.
In Los Angeles, a representative for prosecutors described the arrest as all but inevitable in a game of cat and mouse they had never stopped playing. “Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant,” said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Polanski, who also made The Pianist, said in 2008 that new evidence in the case shows charges should be dropped. As Danielle Berrin blogged in December:
You can’t get away with everything in Hollywood—-or can you? Just ask Roman Polanski, who absconded from the country over three decades ago when he was charged with drugging and then having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Despite her pleas to have the charges dropped and the licentious filmmaker’s disturbingly casual admission of guilt, the sex case stamina endured. Now, new evidence revealed in the documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” may provide Polanski’s pedophilia with a get out of jail free card. Or at the very least, a long awaited homecoming to Hollywood.
Polanski’s attorneys cite “extraordinary new evidence” that has surfaced with the release of Marina Zenovich’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” as reason to reopen the case. The complaint zeroes in on interviews in which then-deputy district attorney David Wells admits discussing the case with Judge Lawrence Rittenband during legal proceedings from the 1970s and further charges the current District Attorney’s Office with misconduct in statements made upon the docu’s June release.
Polanski, the complaint charges, “was and continues to be the victim of repeated, unlawful and unethical misconduct on the part of the L.A. District Attorney’s Office and L.A. Superior Court.”
A hearing has been set for Jan. 21.
Here’s where The Guardian says it better:
His lawyers have fixed on fresh evidence uncovered in a new documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, that highlights “a pattern of misconduct and improper communications” between the district attorney’s office and Judge Rittenband. In other words the grounds for dismissal appear to be based not on any doubt over Polanski’s guilt (so far as I can tell, there isn’t any) but on the suggestion that the subsequent trial was not handled as spotlessly as it might have been. On such technicalities are guilty men recast as heroes.
September 24, 2009 | 6:21 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Danielle Berrin—Miss HollywoodJew herself—wrote a beautiful and moving profile of talent manager Joan Hyler and her fight for survival following a horrific traffic accident.
You can read the whole story here.
At dusk on Friday night, Aug. 15, 2008, Joan Hyler was crossing Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when she was struck by a car traveling 60 miles per hour. Her 5-foot frame was thrown 25 feet through the air before she landed on the hard pavement. It was after midnight on the East Coast when her sister, Nancy Berlin, a nonprofit consultant, got a call saying Hyler, a prominent Hollywood manager, was in critical condition.
When Berlin arrived in Los Angeles the next morning, the mood at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was grim. There was a vigil in the waiting room of movie stars, agents, industry executives and friends — Hyler’s longtime clients Diane Lane, Ricki Lake and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch were there, along with “Will and Grace” star Eric McCormack and his family, “Joan of Arcadia” star Amber Tamblyn and her family and actor Robert Patrick. They were all gathered together, eager to be of use. But at this point there wasn’t much to do but pray. Hyler was in the intensive care unit, where the din of beeping machines were the only signs of life. She lay unconscious, with tubes protruding from every orifice, fluid was draining from her head, her body was battered, bruised and swollen to twice its size, and her face bloodied beyond recognition.
The doctors told Berlin that Hyler probably would not survive — there was too much internal bleeding, and the head injuries and trauma throughout her body were severe. Hyler also had nerve damage, a collapsed lung and possible damage to her spinal cord. She wasn’t breathing on her own; her pelvis was crushed; her arms, elbow and shoulder were broken; and her legs were so badly mangled that her doctors were considering a double amputation.
Even if she were to survive, everyone knew, Hyler’s quality of life was uncertain. There was no way to guess the extent of her brain injuries because she was in a deep coma, where she would stay for the next four months.
When the accident occurred, Hyler was at the height of her career. A pioneer in the entertainment business, she was the first female to become a vice president at the William Morris Agency, having hustled her way from secretary to super agent. As a talent agent she had represented some of the most iconic names in show business, including Madonna, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and Meryl Streep in the 1970s and ’80s. By the mid-’90s, she owned and operated Hyler Management, a boutique management company with a small, loyal base of clients like Lane, Alfred Molina, Tamblyn and Vilanch.
Hyler was always a workaholic. She was deeply involved with her clients both personally and professionally (“I thought of her as my sister,” said actress Karen Allen, star of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Animal House”; “Joan was the stitches through everything that’s ever broken in my life,” Tamblyn said). Without a husband or children, Hyler’s clients became her family. Although she was every bit as driven by ambition as any of her peers, she displayed little of the ego bashing and backstabbing that is characteristic in Hollywood, and her clients appreciated her as much for her drive as they did for her quality of character. She was, according to those closest to her, a mensch.
Hyler was also a community leader and a committed Jew. She taught classes on how to succeed in Hollywood both here and in Israel as part of the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership program created by The Jewish Federation; in May 2007, she led a “Hollywood 101” master class at Tel Aviv University. Here in Los Angeles, Hyler helped found the Hadassah advocacy group, The MorningStar Commission — a band of high-powered women in entertainment devoted to improving images of Jews in film and on television. By many accounts, Hyler lived an enviable life filled with self-made success, famous friends and community recognition.
With the same determination she used to create a name for herself, now Hyler has not only survived, she’s beat the odds: After a year of recovery, Hyler has learned to walk again — on her own once-shattered legs. And on Oct. 1, the UCLA neurosurgery team will present her with the Courage Award at their annual Visionary Ball, alongside actor Jim Carrey.
The story of Hyler’s miraculous recovery is as much about the community that supported her as it is about medical miracles or an act of God. From those early, grave moments, Hyler received an outpouring of support from both Hollywood and the Jewish community (in some cases they overlapped) that was so strong it demanded a show of spiritual strength from Hyler in return. That she survived, and after a protracted recovery has regained many of her basic skills, seems nothing short of astounding. But Hyler wants more. Because life is never the same once you’ve come close to the other side. So even while she’s working hard to reclaim her old life, Hyler now believes she’s been given an opportunity to do something entirely new.
As word of Hyler’s accident spread, more and more people reached out to help. Berlin quickly enlisted a group of caregivers, who became known as “Team Hyler,” who would remain at her side for the duration of her recovery. Many of them — including Lane and McCormack — continued to visit daily from that first weekend and for many months to come. “It was so typical of her life,” said Vilanch, Hyler’s longtime client and oldest friend. “Everywhere she went there were A-listers.”
Others saw something different. Olivia Schwartz, wife of Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz, whom Hyler counts among her spiritual mentors, was surprised by the presence of celebrities whom she previously thought of as selfish: “I’m the least Hollywood person you’ll ever see in your life — I don’t know who anybody is,” she said. “And there’s this parade of movie stars coming through; it changed my opinion in some way — seeing people I might not have had so much respect for showing up for her, it touched me very deeply.”
As Hyler’s closest living relative, Berlin took over all major medical decisions, leaving insurance negotiations and the operation of Hyler Management to Hyler’s ex-husband and business partner, Larry Scissors, with whom Hyler remains close. Berlin set a determined tone for her sister’s recovery, designating visiting hours, delegating responsibilities and setting protocol for reporting on Hyler’s condition. Scissors created a Joan Hyler Web page on the UCLA hospital CarePages site, where he and Berlin posted updates on Hyler’s progress.
The first update was posted to CarePages the day after the accident, prompting an outpouring of 140 messages in response. The following day, 109 more responded. For the next 10 months, Scissors posted regular updates that were broadly optimistic, stressing slow, steady progress, even though the reality was more erratic. Throughout, the response continued to be overwhelming: To date, nearly 1,500 visitors have come to Hyler’s CarePage, sharing more than 4,500 postings.
“I had hope from the very beginning,” Berlin said in a recent phone conversation from Florida.
Hyler’s doctors were not so optimistic, she admitted. Even when it looked like Hyler might survive, there was much talk about amputation and brain damage. “When I spoke to the doctor,” Berlin recalled, “he said, ‘I’m not real hopeful’ and I said, ‘you don’t know Joan.’”
“We never ever said the words out loud that ‘she’s not going to make it,’” Schwartz said. Hyler met the Schwartzes in 1985 when a friend of Bob Dylan’s invited her to Shabbat at their home, and she has been loyal ever since. Schwartzie married Hyler and Scissors in 1990, and Hyler is close with the couples’ children. She also credits the Schwartzes with inspiring her Jewish practice; Hyler keeps kosher and routinely studies Torah. “The Torah teaches, ‘think good, and it will be good.’ I just went to that place, the place where God makes miracles happen and I was convinced she was going to survive,” Schwartz said.
Berlin didn’t leave the hospital for the first two weeks, and for the better part of the next 10 months, as Hyler went from the hospital to rehab to an assisted-living facility before finally moving home, Berlin would spend at least three weeks out of four at her sister’s side, switching off with her husband occasionally so she could fly home to care for her own five children. Berlin made sure that in her absence at least one friend or family member would be at Hyler’s side every day — though there were usually more — and that everyone who visited would report back to her on any progress. Until Hyler was in better condition, very few people were allowed to see her directly.
“We were careful about who would see her, because she is well known and a lot of people like to say they’re close to her,” Schwartz explained. “We were very upset when somebody came in and said they had permission, and then sent an e-mail to 50 other people saying basically how terrible she looked. It was stuff we didn’t want people to know in terms of preserving her dignity. Everybody didn’t need to know how many times she peed.”
Everyone who visited had a job to do. Berlin’s husband wrapped his tallit around her bed; Danny Sussman, a manager with Brillstein Entertainment Partners who serves on the executive committee for The Jewish Federation’s Entertainment Division, brought an Israeli flag; someone else sent her an Our Lady of Guadalupe figurine (the Mexican icon of the Virgin Mary); and another brought Shabbat candles that were lit for Hyler every week. The MorningStar Commission led a prayer service. Rabbi Deborah Orenstein made Torah tapes. And still others brought photos, read her books and told their favorite stories. Everyone who visited was asked to give tzedakah. And during last year’s High Holy Days, Schwartz brought one of her sons to lead a service in Hyler’s hospital room.
Hyler, of course, was not conscious for any of this, but she says now she remembers hearing the sound of the shofar.
That life went on so vividly around Hyler had an impact on the hospital staff. “Instead of seeing a body there, a body that couldn’t move, because of the outpouring she became a person to everyone,” Berlin said. “For all the doctors and nurses, she became very much alive to them — they knew funny stories about her; they saw her through the community that surrounded her, and through that they were inspired.”
“I would just sit with her and hold her hand,” actress Karen Allen said. “There was this sense of being there in the room with your love and your will, sort of willing her to heal.” Allen, who lives in Massachusetts, said that visiting Hyler reconnected her to the Hollywood community, which she’d long been apart from. “We all had a common thread, and that was Joan. In that way of people coming together, there is a lot of spiritual power.”
“Community is contagious,” said Rhoda Weisman, a leader in the Jewish community and close friend of both Hyler and Berlin. “But I don’t think community just happens. There’s a leadership piece in it, and her sister took the lead. I don’t think it would have happened otherwise.”
For the first four or five months, Hyler oscillated in and out of consciousness. She underwent multiple surgeries on her arms, legs, head and trachea. Following that, there were still unknowns. One moment she would improve, become increasingly responsive, and then she would drop off. The doctors discovered a buildup of spinal fluid that was creating pressure on her brain and causing her to lose consciousness. That’s when they put a shunt in her brain to drain the spinal fluid, which allowed her to fully regain consciousness. Still, after five months of being intubated and after a tracheotomy to ease the strain on her throat, she had lost her voice and had to learn how to talk again.
Hyler says she remembers seeing Diane Lane when she finally came to, and her friends Brian Swardstrom, a senior-level agent with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, and his partner, producer Peter Spears, hovering over her bed. Lane likes to tell of one time when Hyler was only half-awake and she commented that Hyler needed a pedicure. Out of the abyss, Hyler squealed, “I want PINK!” So the Oscar-winning actress ran to CVS for pink nail polish and performed the pedicure herself.
Vilanch, Hyler’s oldest friend (the two dated briefly in college, though he was already out of the closet, which Hyler brazenly downplays, “It was the ’60s! It was wild and woolly”) recalled his first conversation with Hyler after she awoke. “I had to explain who Sarah Palin was,” he said with an ironic laugh. “I told her it was a character Tina Fey does. I told her, ‘This is McCain’s running mate,’ and she gave me a look of complete horror.”
As soon as Hyler was well enough to speak, she went back to work. For months, she conducted business as usual on a cell phone from her hospital bed.
It’s a year after her accident when I arrive at Hyler’s townhouse in Santa Monica, and before I even see her, her caregiver sends me straight into her office. There is a stillness inside reflecting months of not being used — the carpet is spotless, the red-velvet couch un-creased — but the walls are filled with 30 years of history — photographs, movie posters, magazine covers and Variety clippings, each spattered with Hyler’s clients’ names and faces. There are various awards and certificates, a framed article about Hyler from the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz and another from the Los Angeles Times from the 1980s about breakthrough female talent agents — Hyler’s picture is at the center of the spread. In the back corner, there is a huge poster from the 1979 Broadway show Hyler worked on, “The Elephant Man,” about a character with a horrible deformity, and in bold letters is the phrase: “My head is so big because it is filled with dreams.”
Upstairs, on the third floor, Hyler is lying in a big white bed. Her face is rosy, her hair cut boyishly short — the blonde completely grown out now, revealing her dark, natural color. She’s just returned from a morning at rehab, and she’s hungry.
“Do you want ice cream?” she asks. “I want a skinny cow,” she tells her caregiver, Gilda, whose name reminds me of the movie by the same name, starring Rita Hayworth. Almost everything surrounding Hyler seems storied — filled with famous people, fortuitous timing and personal triumph — a glamorous Hollywood tale from a time gone by.
“I’ve lived many lives,” Hyler tells me, with a satisfied smile. Her voice, always dramatic, is now low and raspy — not her normal level, her sister says, since the tracheotomy. Hyler doesn’t talk about the accident, but wants to talk about her rise from a small-town Ohio girl to a big-time Hollywood success.
She grew up lower-middle class in Dayton, in a “conventional, conservative” Jewish family. Her father was a salesman at the Bargain Barn and her mother a homemaker — with “a big booming laugh and guts,” Hyler says. Her childhood dream, as she puts it, was to “get out of Dodge.”
Hyler started out in New York in the 1970s as a secretary for the William Morris Agency (“What I didn’t have in skills, I made up in smarts”). She had come straight from Ohio State University, where she’d married Joe Hyler, a campus radical, but the couple divorced by the time she arrived in Manhattan. She worked for Marvin Minoff, the head of the agency’s theater department, reading screenplays and writing reports, working 12-hour days for $120 a week (“The money was s—-, like it is today,” she says). When the agency refused to promote women, Hyler moved to ICM, in 1975, and worked her way up to becoming an agent — representing the likes of Streep and Warhol. This caught the attention of William Morris, which hired her back in 1981, this time in their L.A. office. Hyler describes herself at the time as “a young, hungry, hot agent.”
In Los Angeles, she moved in with Vilanch at the top of Coldwater Canyon. She also reached the top of the Morris Agency, where she repped Madonna and Dylan, but she grew tired of “agenting” after 20 years, and, in 1995, she reinvented herself as a manager.
“I’d like to think I understood their talent and was able to help them articulate it,” she has said of her success with A-list clients. “I wanted this big-ass career, and I got it.”
“I was a woman in the age of women, an agent in the age of agents, a New Yorker when that was the place to be ... I have a thousand memories and not a single regret,” she says now. “That’s a quote from ‘Fiddler Jones.’ He ended up with a broken fiddle. That’s my favorite poem.”
But even today, much healed — Hyler suffered no permanent brain damage — she still needs a wheelchair to get around and can walk only briefly with a cane. She is reticent to talk about her accident. She says, somewhat irresolutely, that she remembers nothing of being hit. Pressing her on the content of her inner life over the past year yields little: What were the hardest moments? “Wanting to be normal and resume my own life and not knowing when I would be able to”; What enabled her to survive? “I don’t know. It was a gift.”
She attributes her recovery to her sister, to the Schwartzes, to the CarePages, to the community and to Scissors, who kept her business afloat. (Hyler has lost a few clients, including McCormack, who spent much of the year at her bedside but recently moved on to work with someone else. Hyler has only favorable things to say about him and their time together, and the two remain friends.) Hyler also owes much to yoga: Almost everyone interviewed said Hyler was in the best physical shape of her life at the time of the accident, which many believe helped her body heal.
But Hyler still has a long way to go: she is in outpatient rehab twice a week, building up muscle strength in her legs so she can walk without a cane and drive a car again. She is also undergoing weight training to build upper-body strength. When prompted on what she isn’t able to do that she’d most like to, she answers, “The Hora,” without missing a beat. “And to sing on pitch — but I never could.”
I ask her if she ever felt confused or afraid.
“I can’t explain it,” Hyler says. “For the longest time I didn’t want it described to me what I’d been through. It sounded awful. All I wanted to do was focus on the future, not the past. It was enough that I was alive — I’m still shocked I lived through that. My legs were smashed, but they put them together again. And I can walk, thank God. I’m learning how to walk all over again.”
Hyler says she has been most surprised by the magnitude of people’s kindness to her over the course of her recovery.
“I live in show business,” she says. “It’s a rough, tough business.”
And, she says, from the moment she awoke, all she ever felt was grateful.
“One of the things I’m studying with the Schwartzes is how to take what’s left and fashion it into a life of meaning,” Hyler says. “That’s what I liked about the rebbe so much — there was real meaning in Jewish life. There’s not a word out of place in the Torah; it all has depths of meaning, and our job is to figure out what it means.”
“And I’m inflamed by that,” she says quietly. “The search for meaning. What does it mean that it happened to me this way?”
“The real question,” Hyler concludes, “is not why something happens to you — it happens to everybody — nobody gets out of here alive. The question is, ‘What now?’ That’s what I’m struggling with. What do you do with all of this?”
September 17, 2009 | 1:34 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Picking up on the Toronto controversy, Patrick Goldstein weighs in on the impact of the Federation ad.
He writes on his blog, The Big Picture, that he’s “not a big fan of political action letter writing and protest ads,” because “too many celebrities either go whichever direction the wind is blowing or have no real grasp of the complexity of political issues in the first place.” But Goldstein lauds the Federation campaign for striking “the right chord” with its focus on artistic free expression and not the political complexities of the Middle East conflict.
He also gives due praise to Dan Adler, one of the behind-the-scenes figures who helped gather support for the ad.
Read more at The Big Picture:
Dan Adler, an L.A. based entrepreneur and former CAA executive, was one of the driving forces behind the ad, which is officially sponsored by Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the UJA Federation of Toronto. “We all spent a lot of time talking about the original protest letter, in the sense that it seemed to be going after the wrong target by attacking Israel and its film artists,” said Adler. “When I sat down at my computer and started asking for people to sign on, all I got was passion and enthusiasm. Everyone said, ‘I’m in,’ and then, even better, added, ‘Can I get you someone else?’ “
Israel’s role in the mess in the Middle East is, for example, far too endlessly complicated to be accurately captured in a protest letter or counter-protest ad. But I think this ad strikes the right chord, since as Adler puts it: “This was a cut and dried issue—it’s important to stand up for the rights of artists, wherever they are, especially in the film community of Israel which has been a beacon of open, often critical free expression.”
September 15, 2009 | 3:14 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Natalie Portman, Jerry Seinfeld, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Ivan Reitman, Paul Reiser, Jason Alexander… the list of Hollywood celebrities supporting the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv reads like a roster of Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winners. Many of the most powerful people in showbiz signed on to the following Federation ad which will run tomorrow morning in Canada’s The Global Mail.
September 14, 2009 | 8:24 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
After signing a vitriolic protest letter against the Toronto International Film Festival’s Tel Aviv sidebar, Jane Fonda has issued a mea culpa. The self-proclaimed actress, activist and advocate writes in a blog for the Huffington Post that she “signed the letter without reading it carefully enough.”
I guess that means she missed the letter’s second line, which accused Toronto of becoming “complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine”—as if their choice to spotlight diverse and complex films about life in Israel is a mere extension of government policy. But that would be strange considering the content of the films included, which portray many nuanced aspects of Israeli life. Eytan Fox’s “The Bubble,” for example, is hardly the kind of story that would please Israel’s prime minister. Billed as a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian—both of whom are men—the Israeli characters in the film consider themselves “enlightened” and spend their spare time opposing Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and organizing “anti-occupation raves.”
Of course, Fonda—and other early signatories of the protest letter—refused to see any of the films selected for the “City to City” sidebar, which festival co-director Cameron Bailey reveals on the festival website.
In the end, it may not have been Fonda’s good conscience that turned her around, but a Los Angeles rabbi who persuaded her to rethink her position.
“Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuva”—to fix things you have done incorrectly,” Fonda writes. “Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city ‘built on destroyed Palestinian villages,’ for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza,” she continued.
Her sudden clarification comes on the eve of publication of a much anticipated ad that will appear in Canada’s national newspaper, The Global Mail, and which is signed by more than 100 of Hollywood’s most powerful personalities.
Read Fonda’s entire letter here.
September 13, 2009 | 7:05 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The filmmaker-led protest at the Toronto International Film Festival over its spotlight on Tel Aviv has escalated into an intense political conflict and divided the international filmmaking community.
Known as “The Toronto Declaration,” the protest began when a single filmmaker withdrew his film from the festival and has since escalated into a full-fledged cultural boycott with more than 1,000 supporters. The seriousness of the campaign and the groundswell of support surrounding a protest letter has led organizers to schedule a press conference, to be attended by Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers, tomorrow morning.
At the same time, the Jewish Federation of Toronto is scheduled to take out an ad in The Global Mail, Canada’s national newspaper showcasing Hollywood support for Israel, using the tagline “We don’t need another blacklist.” So far, rumored signatories include actress Natalie Portman, producer Howard Gordon, manager/producer Guy Oseary and Gail Berman, former president of entertainment at FOX.
The counter protest is developing in response to a letter signed by over 1,000 filmmakers, actors and academics— including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Julie Christie and Viggo Mortenson—that calls Israel an “apartheid state” and accuses Toronto of being “complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.”
The vitriolic charges against Israel has evoked a determined response in the Hollywood community.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Weisenthal Center was the first to respond, saying he was “outraged” by the boycott.
“As a filmmaker and member of the Academy, I can tell you that this is nothing less than a call for the complete destruction of the Jewish State,” Hier said.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, David Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman and Norman Jewison joined supporters of the festival sidebar, and charged the protesters with censorship.
“Film is essentially about telling global stories, of exploring the complexities and contradictions of the human condition. Any attempt to silence that conversation, to hijack the festival for any political agenda in the end, only serves to silence artistic voices,” Reitman told THR. Jewison told the trade the protest “smacks of anti-Semitic bigotry.”
Minnie Driver said in a statement, “Empowered groups of people, deciding whose stories can, and cannot be told, does nothing but remind us of oppression that has no place in filmmaking.”
Producer Tom Barad called the Toronto Declaration “absurd” and has composed a counter-protest letter that is currently circulating in Hollywood.
“It just feels unjust,” Barad said about the growing protest. “I think there’s some tear, some rip in the world when it comes to things that are Jewish—an anti-Zionist zeitgeist that sadly we’re not rid of.” Barad also said that boycotting the Tel Aviv film program doesn’t make sense because the “most ardent critics of the State of Israel are its own filmmakers.”
Organizers of the initial protest refused to see the films selected for the Tel Aviv spotlight, claiming that they exclude Palestinian perspectives.
Barad’s counter-letter aims to dispel the charges against Israel by examining history.
“The entire world was formed through military victories and defeats,” Barad explained by phone from St. Louis. “Every state since the beginning of nations has been formed this way, but only Israel is continually disclaimed from its legitimate right to exist.”
The upside of the protest, Barad said, is that it will bring the issue to the forefront and force those involved to evaluate where they stand. And, he added, he isn’t intimated by the growing numbers on the other side.
“I don’t think that one letter with a thousand signatures in any way can define how the larger world of filmmakers or entertainment executives feel about the state of Israel.”
Read Barad’s letter below:
An open response to those who have protested
the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv.
Your talent is greatly admired. This makes your letter of September 2 all the more distressing. The letter is offensive, a throwback to tired ideas that continue to pollute the world and prevent progress to tolerance and peace.
Let this be stated clearly: Israel is not an apartheid state, never has been. It is a democracy just like Canada or the United States.
Israel, like every other democracy, is not perfect. However, it strives toward improvement as reflected by the government’s commitment to a peace process that will result in a two-state solution to the dispute with the Palestinians.
Israel is not immune to criticism. Israelis, and especially Israeli filmmakers, often are the government’s most ardent critics. But their interests lie in making their nation a better place, not making it disappear. Perhaps you don’t realize that your accusation furthers an agenda that seeks to deny Israel its legitimate rights. Every country in the world, since the beginning of formalized states, has established its nation through military victories and defeats, acquiring and losing land and suffering tragic loss of life. Recognized as a state in 1948 by the United Nations, the new State of Israel survived attack from every one of its neighbors, and remains the only nation continuously singled out and disclaimed for its actions in creating its democratic nation.
If you deny legitimacy to Israel, you will have to deny it to every country in the world, including Canada, which was taken from the French, and the United States, where vast stretches were taken from American Indians, Mexico and England.
It is worth noting that after Israel’s recognition as a state, more than 800,000 Jews were forced to flee the Arab countries where their lineage dated back more than 1,500 years. Their homes and property were stolen. And, to this day, the people who are most vocal about compensating Palestinian refugees are silent about the claims of these Jewish refugees.
Since their inception, Arab countries like Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and most of the Arab Emirates states, which were formed by British or French mandate and which handed autocratic power to tribal fiefdoms and war lords, openly pursued racist policies with no free press, or free speech. They denied rights to vast sectors of their population, including women and Islamic sects. Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, do not allow Jews to be citizens or allow the practice of Judaism.
Yet, since its founding, the State of Israel has been a democracy, protecting the freedom of the press, of religion, of assembly and women’s rights. Israeli Arabs enjoy all the benefits of citizenship and can be found in all strata of society, including the Parliament and the Supreme Court.
Your comparison of Tel Aviv to Cape Town is an affront to the decency of the citizens of Israel. It is an affront to those who suffered the rigid white rule of South Africa and the brown shirt squads who administered their laws of segregation, intimidation, wire-taps and arrests of any who put forward opposing ideas. Anyone who lived in Cape Town at the time of apartheid will tell you the folly of your comparison.
Tel Aviv was founded by a land purchase in the early 20th century, much like New York City in the 17th century. When Israel was attacked in 1948, Tel Aviv was a small coastal town bursting with new immigrants. It has grown to be one of the most exciting, tolerant and cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Your claim about the war in Gaza is a further distortion. There is no country in the world that would have waited three years before defending itself against a merciless barrage of more than 10,000 rockets and mortars that threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. The suffering in Gaza is enormous. And your words of condemnation are aimed at the wrong party.
To be forced to engage in a defense of your claims, gives your accusations a legitimacy and dignity they do not deserve. The world is upside down. You are attacking the victim.
As for your objection that several business men in Canada have launched “a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel,” this is no different than any other city or country in the world that seeks to improve its visibility and trade. Obviously, their campaign is going to need more than a million dollars to overcome these kinds of destructive and tired accusations.
For 61 years, the State of Israel has sought to make peace with its neighbors and has been answered with a united Arab voice, “No peace with Israel.” Only Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan had the courage to break with the crowd, costing one of them his life. Their treaties have produced many benefits for all their citizens.
You are gifted artists and thinkers. Why can you not also break from the crowd? Instead of seeking to sanction Tel Aviv, why are you not supporting the voices of Israeli filmmakers, as they struggle to get films made and seen by world audiences?
Congratulations and not protests are to be made to TIFF on recognizing the beautiful city of Tel Aviv and its filmmakers. Israel has more film schools per capita than any country in the world, where both Jewish and Arab students can learn and study. These are the last persons you should want to silence.
Thomas K. Barad, Producer, Los Angeles, CA
Thomas K. Bard is a film producer in Los Angeles. His last film, OPEN WINDOW, was an official selection at the Sundance, Stockholm, Austin and Jerusalem Film Festivals, among others. Formerly, he was a Senior Vice President of Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group.