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PALM LATITUDES

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February 23, 1992|Liz Brody | Edited by Mary McNamara

Relaxing in his living room after having cinched a three-pic movie deal, Douchan Gersi takes a sip of wine and says, yes, he has engaged in cannibalism.

The man is not speaking Hollywood hyperbolese; he's referring to a very literal occupational hazard. Gersi is a professional adventurer who finances his expeditions through books, documentaries and, now, feature films. Dining with African sorcerers, Asian sea gypsies or Borneo headhunters, one doesn't get a menu. "I have eaten snakes, tarantulas, worms, termites, rats, cats, dogs, monkeys, alligators," he says, "and humans. That was when I was living in New Guinea. When I approach a tribe, I get rid of my identity because I come with the idea of exploring their state of mind. And that means, to do like they do." The 44-year-old Gersi has stories that would send Odysseus tripping. Take the woman who flew over Gersi's head at a Haitian voodoo ritual, or the blind, telepathic Tuareg who guided him across the Sahara Desert. Or the search for Mokele Mbembe, a lost dinosaur described many times to Gersi by African Congo Pygmies. That expedition is part of the three-pic deal with Cineville. He'll also direct "Heart of Darkness," based on the Joseph Conrad novel. "The star of this picture is the jungle," says Gersi, "how it manipulates people's minds and narrows the thin border between wisdom and madness. I often use madness in my own life, to survive."

Like when he was initiated into an Iban tribe of headhunters. He was pursued by warriors in the jungle for three days. He hid in a menstruation lair, taboo for men--had he not used his head, it could have ended up a decoration.

But that's nothing compared to city life. "I am more scared of walking in certain parts of Los Angeles than of being lost in the jungle," says Gersi. "There, if I am the victim of prey, it's nature. Here, I can be killed for five bucks. "

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