Armed only with his interest in bringing Americans and Soviets one step closer to understanding each other, Mark Gerzon went to the Kremlin last year to argue for a different kind of summit meeting--one between Soviet and American film makers.
But the executive director of this weekend's "Entertainment Summit" didn't have to pull out the heavy artillery. In fact, Gerzon's "summit" idea--to bring 10 influential Soviet film makers to Los Angeles to experience for themselves what American film makers think of the massive Soviet republic--was received with open arms, he says.
After 10 months of planning, the summit--a series of industry dialogues, meetings and receptions for the visitors--starts today. In a recent interview, Gerzon--who heads up Mediators Productions, a Malibu-based motion picture and television production company--said he was surprised at the ease with which his requests, given directly to Soviet government officials in Moscow, were approved.
"I expected to be turned down flat," Gerzon recalled. "I made three rather unusual demands of them: one, that Elem Klimov (the recently elected chairman of the Soviet Cinematographers Union) head a high-level creative delegation; two, that I see a full portfolio of the representation of Americans in Soviet film, and three, that they allow and indeed welcome a reciprocal American delegation to Moscow at a later date. I was shocked. They said yes to every one. And they honored that yes."
Of course, the other part of Gerzon's master plan was to have the moguls, movers and shakers who live here actually meet, socialize and confer with their Soviet counterparts--most of whom are known only as names on a credit reel.
But as a former journalist and present author-screenwriter, Gerzon was worldly enough to wonder whether the public-relations bonanza that cinematic glasnost represents wasn't the deciding factor in his Soviet hosts' quick affirmative.
"In some ways it did seem too easy," Gerzon said. "I had some fairly serious doubts about their motives when everything came together so easily. But I kept telling myself that a few doubts shouldn't stop one from helping the human race to survive. And I became convinced when I discussed the details with the bureaucrats in Moscow: They really wanted this to go forward."
Gerzon added he's just as convinced that American film people--among them Tony Bill, Norman Jewison, Sydney Pollack and Horton Foote--want to learn something substantial (indeed, usable) about their Soviet counterparts.
"The response to the idea of the summit in this town has been touching," Gerzon said. "After I came back with the Soviet answer, everybody I spoke with was interested. Even the studios, whose interest is as much economic as philosophical."
In fact, the summit--which runs through Wednesday at various locations here--will have noticeably practical underpinnings, for all its anti-nuke, one-world sentiment. Klimov and his colleagues--directors Rolan Bykov, Eldar Shengelaya, Tolomush Okeyev and Sergei Mikaelyan, film critic Victor Dyomin, actress Ludmilla Chursina, screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov and government television spokesman Vladimir Posner--will "take" plenty of meetings with executives at Warner Bros., Columbia, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild and independent producers. After all, one of the summit's tenets is to "act as a catalyst for future creative collaborations."
In conversation, Gerzon doesn't soft-pedal the salesmanship involved in his little get-together: "I hope we're 15 years beyond the Cold War-inspired mentality that says 'We can't sell Russians to Peoria.' " But he insists that overcoming ignorance is the summit's modus vivendi.
"We're in an exciting period where stereotypes are breaking down on both sides," Gerzon said. "For years, we've been ignorant of who the Soviets were, and they of us. All you had to do was see any Russian movie that had Americans in it, or wait in line to see 'Rocky IV' or 'Red Dawn.' None of the 'bad guys' in these films had any human qualities; they were just evil.
"But ignorance perpetuates itself," Gerzon continued. "I mean, why didn't (Sylvester) Stallone go over to Moscow and talk to a Soviet or two before making 'Rocky IV' and, in effect, telling 500 million people what brutes the Russians are?"
But that film was released in 1985. Why this pseudo-summit now?
"It's an exciting time for those of us who hope the two 'sides' can understand each other," Gerzon replied. "Curiosity is beginning to replace unthinking stereotyping in this country, and they're certainly trying to open things up in the U.S.S.R. I think the time has come when citizen diplomacy, on a large scale, can really promote understanding for once. And with film makers, the possibility exists that many more people will begin to understand the other side if a director, screenwriter or actor does."
While they're here, the Soviet delegation also will pay visits to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, the USC School of Cinema and Television and an elementary school in Santa Monica. Then, after a 24-hour breather, the 10 film people will pack up and take their show on the road for two days of talks (concerning plans for the next Entertainment Summit) in New York City. Funding for the meetings on both coasts came from, among others, the Fund for Peace in New York, the Carnegie Corp., the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Ploughshares Fund.
"The thing that I'm really hoping for," Gerzon said, "is that these creative people, both Soviet and American, come to see each other as people rather than objects of fear. It's a lot harder to think of annihilating people--people you find are a lot like you are--than merely eliminating the enemy's numbers. And that goes for 'Rambo' too."