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Knowledge is the Beginning: Barenboim, Said, and young Middle Eastern musicians

From the "Senza Frontiere" Film Festival (Italy), chaired by Fiamma Arditi

Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the Emmy Award-winning documentary about the youth orchestra bringing together musicians who are Israeli, Palestinian, and from countries across the Middle East. Developed with the Senza Frontiere ("Without Borders") Film Festival, Italy and its Chair, Fiamma Arditi. Co-sponsored by Columbia's Heyman Center for the Humanities. “This is not a simple feel-good story…Rather the film is almost an instruction manual of how much cultural good can be done in the worst of political times.” – The Boston Globe

In 1999, the Israeli Jewish conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian literary theorist Edward Said founded the West-Eastern Divan as a workshop for Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians. “With his documentary portrait Knowledge is the Beginning, filmmaker Paul Smaczny chronicles the pair's awe-inspiring accomplishments,” writes Nathan Southern in the NY Times. Within the workshop, individuals who had interacted with each other only through the prism of war found themselves living and working together as equals. As they listened to each other during rehearsals and discussions, they traversed deep political and ideological divides. Though this experiment in coexistence was intended as a one-time event, it quickly evolved into a legendary orchestra. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is named after a collection of poems by Goethe inspired by the Persian poet Hafiz.

Following the screening, the workshop and its continuing relevance to contemporary life will be discussed by special guests Paul Smaczny (filmmaker), Mariam Said (VP of the Barenboim-Said Foundation), Fiamma Arditi (founder and Chair of the Senza Frontiere Film Festival, a series partly inspired by this documentary), and musicians from the West-Eastern Divan orchestra: Elad Kabilio (cello), Tyme Khleifi (violin), Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), and Layale Chaker (violin).

Photo © Monika Ritterhaus