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Thinking About Diamonds Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ed Zwick (Producer of 'Blood Diamond'), Mar 17, 2008
Human Rights , Globalization   Opinions
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I have spent the better part of two years thinking about diamonds. Before presuming to make a movie that might be seen by millions, I felt an obligation to try to better understand my subject. And so I’ve studied their science, their history and their commerce. I’ve visited mines, read spread-sheets and secret memo’s, peered at rough stones through microscopes, traveled throughout four continents to talk to jewelers, smugglers, dealers, politicians, captains-of-industry, mercenaries, NGO do-gooders and corporate spin doctors. And what I learned was as complex and rife with contradiction as Africa itself: as faceted and mysterious, one might even say, as a diamond. A thing both rare and yet abundant. A beautiful object that is sometimes born of ugliness. Something indestructible that has also caused so much destruction.

But when Martin asked if I might speak today, I wasn’t at all sure I had anything to contribute. I’m not an industry insider. I have no particular expertise, and certainly no stake that rivals those of you for whom diamonds are your livelihood, your passion or your crusade. Then again, of all those here, I may be the one person with absolutely no agenda. So I hope, in this spirit, you will indulge me some personal reflection, a few observations, as well as some idealistic and no doubt intemperate conclusions. After all, mine is the world of emotion, not P &L statements or government briefings. I tend to see things as my audience does, in terms of right and wrong, and most of all as a set of moral choices.

For me, I guess, today represents some kind of closure. My film, whether it appealed to you, offended you, excited your curiosity or bored you to tears, will soon be gone from the theatres. The dvd’s will be gathering dust on the shelf and I will be obliged to become passionate about something else entirely. We story tellers are notoriously promiscuous by trade. We have our way with you and move on. Having directed films for over twenty-five years now, I have become hardened, or at the very least, resigned to this reality.

But Africa was unlike any experience I have ever had. Every day brought forth some new confrontation with myself, and with my intentions. To behold the natural grace of God's greatest gifts – the beauty and vastness of the land, the grace of animals, the faces of children – and then to see it all juxtaposed, at every turn, with unspeakable human misery…it was just overwhelming. Because it was truly hard to understand how the immensity of such goodness had also created such fertile ground for the expression of evil. How it could be at once a feast of innocence and also a catalogue of human suffering. The drama of such violent juxtapositions rocked every complaisant notion I might have had about man’s capacity for cruelty and for joy. For twenty five years I had presumed, as a dramatist, to understand something about man’s nature and purpose, but never before and nowhere else had the essential divine apathy of the human circumstance been so starkly revealed to me, while at the same time confirming some essential and private theology, of the extremity of things and feelings, of the imminence of life, and the glory and sadness of its brevity.

How could I feel all this and still engage in making a film intended for profit and self-glorification – without utterly exploiting those whose suffering was its subject? After all, what resource is more valuable than one’s story. And how different was my situation, really, than those willing who plunder a country’s natural treasure and then give nothing in exchange. My first reaction was to despair. This turns out to be a pretty standard response among those of the privileged world who confront such contradiction for the first time. Seeing the kind of things one sees, day in and day out, inevitably engenders a certain hopelessness… and then to have to devote myself, as I was obliged to do on the set, to the depiction and recreation of such cruelty and horror -- the rape of villages, the shattering of families, the debasement of children… well, all I can say is, I honestly wasn’t sure I would get through it.

But then a curious thing happened. The more people I met who had endured this calamity – Sierra Leoneans who had lost everything, former child soldiers, amputees – the more I realized that what I was feeling was essentially selfish, that my feelings had absolutely nothing at all to do with the reality of their experience. All around me, everyone else was involved in the business of living – of getting on with it – of doing whatever they could in the epic, even heroic challenge of getting through the day. Their circumstances may be appalling and squalid, but their behavior was energetic and industrious and full of all sorts of odd and unexpected dignity. Even of laughter and joy. Whether fashioning bits of scrap metal into toy cars to sell, laying out a few withered vegetables on a street corner, or carrying huge jerry cans of water on one’s head for miles, they were doing what they can. And after a certain amount of watching this, I couldn’t help but ask myself, what was I doing? And so, tentatively at first, and then with growing enthusiasm and commitment, I began to consider what it was I could do, what task, what contribution, what portion of good was within my ken to accomplish.

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