Saturday, August 4, 2007

Werner's (former?) lawyer co-produces the new film

Werner Erhard, est, and Landmark Education are phenomena about which it is evidently impossible to be neutral. Everyone I've ever met who knows even a little about them has a pro or con opinion. And just about everything I've ever read has a strong opinion as well. It's always a variation of "this is great" or "this is a big dangerous con."

It would be really, really interesting if someone would write a thoroughly-researched book, or make a genuinely independent documentary, about these subjects. Robyn Symon's new film Transformation: The Life and Work of Werner Erhard is coproduced by her production company and "Eagle Island Films," the president of which, according to this report, was Werner Erhard's personal attorney and is also president of the company which published Jane Self's Sixty Minutes and the Assassination of Werner Erhard. This news has me wondering who may be an investor in Eagle Island Films: Landmark? Erhard himself? Associates and admirers of Erhard?

There's a long audio interview with Symon available (linked to from the film's site; scroll down to the link to the archives, then scroll down to the program) in which she and the interviewer chat at substantial length about how wonderful Werner is. It's clear that she is motivated by a desire to show what a great impact she believes Erhard had and continues to have. It's a film about what was really valuable in Erhard's work. So, whatever its many virtues may be (and I look forward to seeing it when I can), this documentary is not the truly independent examination of the sociological phenomenon that I would love to see.

I'm quite aware that documentary films are not (necessarily) investigative journalism. And it's clear from the film's website that the director is not claiming to be neutral. Documentaries are often made by a director with a point of view (Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock), so one can't really be shocked, shocked, shocked that this film, made with the cooperation of Erhard and Landmark, takes a positive view of Erhard and its work.

Meanwhile, the "Friends of Werner Erhard" site has been updated over the past week, and it includes what appear to be some clips or outtakes of interviews for the film. It has links to the full text of a talk Erhard gave in Switzerland in 2006, and to a pdf file of a PowerPoint presentation Erhard coauthored which was presented at a Harvard conference.

Now that he's been forgotten by the larger culture (I recently started seeing a new therapist, who I'd guess is about 40; she'd never heard of him), his associates and admirers appear to be working to reintroduce him to the American public. Which is their right, and as I've said here in virtually every entry, I grew a tremendous amount out of programs Erhard designed. I kinda miss him.

That 1991 Sixty Minutes piece was a hatchet job. The producers evidently went so far that they created something that ultimately had to be removed from the CBS archive, I assume in settlement of a lawsuit. They missed a real opportunity to explore--in a fair manner--the aspects of Erhard's conduct, and the dynamics of the organizations which surrounded him, which were such a fascinating part of American life and which deserve to have had fuller documentation.

So, someday, maybe someone will capture both the brilliance and charisma of Erhard and the extraordinarily annoying "est pest," jargon-speaking followers of the man, the controversy around the start of The Hunger Project, etc. I still think he is a genius, and that he probably had the "messiah complex" I seem to recall his now ex-wife Ellen describing in an article. He was the "source of est," including its dark side (which he did fully acknowledge, after all), and, as he taught me, he created the circumstances of his life.


GuruTruth said...

I still find the whole connection between " Eagle Island Films " , and Werner Erhard's (former???) attorney Walter Maksym , as executive producer and president of Eagle Island Films , and this new " Transformation" um, "documentary", very interesting.

The film goes into some discussion of the events in Werner Erhard's life where he was represented by Walter Maksym, and yet the film is also influence in some manner by this individual as well, as the executive producer / president of one of the two production companies. This seems very curious, to say the least.

Eric Edberg said...

I agree. And as I said in the post, it makes me quite curious as to the actual source of the funding for the film. Documentary films are quite often advocacy pieces, and while I haven't seen the film, it does sound to be pro-Erhard advocacy.