Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

A Film by Robyn Symon
Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
Film review - Film preview - Purchase DVD - Watch film now

South Africa Premiere

How a small team of totally committed people fearlessly executed a plan flawlessly from creation through completion
without stopping at "It can't be done" and brought Werner's transformation to South Africa for the second time

Vino Bello, Napa, California, USA

June 26, 2009

"Nothing happens until someone says something." ... 
This essay, South Africa Premiere, is the companion piece to
  1. Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard
  2. San Francisco Premiere
in that order.

It is also the sequel to The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In South Africa.

I am indebted to Morgan Behr and to Margaretha van der Meijden Theron and to Ludi Kraus and to Charlene Krassoi and to Robyn Symon who inspired this conversation.

Photography by Screen Media Films - © Symon Productions and Screen Media Films - 2007
A Film by Robyn Symon
Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
Film review - Film preview - Purchase DVD - Watch film now
Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard, Emmy award winning producer Robyn Symon's film, is extraordinary. Its title is totally apt. When you're considering Werner Erhard's life and what his legacy will be (actually, already is), one word immediately comes to mind: transformation. Robyn's film captures Werner at his brilliant best in moments when only the quality of his speaking  can suffice to convey transformation to the viewer.

It's masterful film making. There are no special effects  or gimmicks. There's no trick photography. There aren't any contrived haloes  or mystically significant shots of the sun's rays shining out from behind misty clouds accompanied by choirs of angels - none of that sort of thing. Just no nonsense in your face  straight talk documentary film making.

The film also addresses head on  the controversy around Werner Erhard's life. It's been said (erroneously, in my opinion) this is the film's raison d'etre. I beg to differ: it's not. The film's raison d'etre, as its title implies, is to highlight Werner's life and his inexorable legacy of transformation. As a sub-theme, the film must inevitably address controversy - which it does, and it pulls no punches in the process. Anyone who makes a difference on Planet Earth, anyone who's ever  made a difference on Planet Earth, anyone who ever will  make a difference on Planet Earth, is destined to be (almost by definition) controversial. It's to be expected. If you're going to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.

I got the idea one day just ... like  ... that ... out of the blue  to source this film playing to audiences in South Africa. I've had some experience of the listening for Werner's work in South Africa. In 1979, out of a conversation with Werner I went to South Africa, led the first ten guest events in the major cities enrolling the first one thousand people, effectively starting Werner's work there. Now, thirty years later, it seemed like the time had come to go back there again - figuratively, if not literally - and create Werner's transformation in South Africa anew.

Since she granted me an interview I've been touched, moved, and inspired not only by Robyn's work but also by who she is a human being. She truly isn't interested in creating a puff  piece about Werner. She won't trade truth for notoriety. She's biased against being biased. She's totally turned off by the idea of creating a song of praise, an ode  to Werner. She tells the truth which, at first is hard to watch ... until you realize the truth is very often hard to watch. I called her and asked her whether or not she was open to the idea of premiering Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard in a theatre in South Africa.

I said to her "Robyn, we can show it in South Africa. Ever since 1979 there's been a big  listening for Werner's work there. We can get a theatre. Once the word gets out, we'll fill the place. In fact, my sense is we'll need to schedule multiple screenings because one won't be enough. This isn't going to be hard work either. Once people find out it's showing, they'll come in droves. If you're interested, say so. I can make it happen.".

Robyn immediately warmed to the idea, stressing (having had experience in this area before) that to make the project viable, we had to enroll someone at ground zero  in South Africa to be our point person there. Neither of us had any doubt about it: this project wasn't going to fly if Robyn and I were to manage this project by ourselves entirely by telephone conversations from different states within the United States with people in South Africa.

I got on the phone. The first person I called to invite to be our point person at ground zero  in South Africa for this project was Margaretha van der Meijden Theron, my partner in creating the ten guest events in South Africa in 1979. Margaretha hadn't yet seen the film so I arranged to have the international version of the DVD mailed to her - the South African compatible PAL  (Phase Alternating Line)  version rather than the United States compatible NTSC  (National Television System Committee)  version.

After watching the film Margaretha was enrolled. That's all it took. It was that easy. Margaretha located the perfect theatre for a premiere of Robyn's film in South Africa, the respected Labia in the historic Gardens  section of the coastal city of Cape Town, and started the conversation with the theatre manager Ludi Kraus. Ludi is known for creating programs at the Labia showcasing film festival films, foreign  films, and documentaries of interest to the theatre going public of Cape Town. It was perfect.

We now had our point person at ground zero  in South Africa, and we had a theatre. The gathering momentum was all downhill from then on. Robyn's initial concern had been alleviated. Moving forward, she then asked Charlene Krassoi, her screenings manager, to join our team.

Charlene, a beautiful, vivacious, detail oriented, enthusiastic manager, is responsible for, inter alia, the logistics of premieres of Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard around the world. She would co-ordinate the project. We floated some dates which seemed feasible. We'd closed the first critical gaps in the project's lifecycle.

Almost as soon as we'd closed the first critical gaps in the project's lifecycle, another one appeared. Margaretha was going to be out of the country on the dates we'd envisioned for the screenings. She'd made invaluable inroads, and now we needed to replace her as point person at ground zero  in South Africa. I got back on the phone.

When you present people with an extraordinary opportunity like bringing Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard to a country for the first time, you don't need to work very hard to enroll them. They either get it or they don't. If they get it, it's almost immediate. And if they don't get it, you have to respect that. While I was certainly willing to explain  the opportunity at hand, I also knew the kind of person I wanted on our team was someone who immediately  realized what the opportunity was. If they got it like that, I knew their own excitement and enthusiasm for the opportunity would render them independently driven ie low maintenance. I wasn't enrolling someone into mountain climbing school. Rather, once they said yes, we were going straight to the cliff face.

It was immediately clear to me when people I called didn't get the opportunity, and I thanked them for their time and for considering my request. Morgan Behr, an old friend of mine, wasn't one of them. He stood apart as someone who did get the opportunity. Morgan and I go back a long way - all the way back to high school, Boy Scouts, and before. Morgan got it totally. He jumped at the opportunity. Ours was a very brief telephone conversation: "Do you want to do this?" - "Yes" - "Good. Thank You. Goodbye.". Morgan was now our replacement person at ground zero  in South Africa. He, as it turned out, saw the project through to its completion.

With the full team now in place and everyone aligned, effortlessness, ease, and gratification ensued. Charlene managed the project brilliantly, calling the shots. She was the one on whose experience we relied. She'd done this once or twice before. Her instructions were in the "first do this, now do that"  order of things, never in the "what do we do now?"  realm. With Charlene there was a sense of precisely following a well structured map, completing all the steps from A through Z  ... and how can you be surprised when things work out when you do it like that?

But it was Morgan who made it all happen. He was there. He was the one to get us all real about nuances in the South African culture which may have been missed (and misunderstood) by us know it all  Americans. All the local information dissemination was sourced by Morgan. All the local legwork was Morgan's. He was leaving no stone unturned. If he had reservations, he said so. If he disagreed with a way the project was going, he made it clear. There's a way of disagreeing with the project's flow, regardless of it being a valid disagreement or not, and have it be an irritation, something which has no relevance and simply gets in the way. And then there's a way of disagreeing with the project's flow when it's appropriate to disagree with the project's flow  so that we got it, reassessed our strategy, put in an inflight course correction, and continued on, more accurately, more intent than we were before. Morgan is a master at causing inflight course corrections  when, and as soon as, they become essential.

There was nothing left for me to do. So that's exactly what I did: nothing. That's not because, as some say, sourcing  and doing  are incompatible. Neither was it because, as others say, "Don't sweat the small  stuff!" because the trouble with that, as Life eventually proves, is it's all small stuff. It was simply because there really wasn't anything for me to do except watch that things were unfolding as intended, and listen the project like the railroad track listens a train, the value of which my coach has demonstrated to me over and over again.

Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard premiered at the Labia theatre in Cape Town South Africa with three screenings starting at 6:30pm in the evenings of Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday June 21, 23, and 25, 2009. The maximum audience size, were every seat in the theatre filled for all three performances, was 300. The film was seen by a total of 141 people.

One way of looking at this is it's not enough, it's not as much as we expected, it's not as much as we hoped  for. Another way of looking at it is it's a 14,100% improvement over where we were at when we started.

For me, the latter perspective is the only one worth anything. 141 more people in South Africa now have material, evidence, and information to make a clear choice for themselves about Werner's work. Each of these people will in all likelihood share their experience with one other (and that's conservative). Now there's 282 - and each of them with one other. Now there's 564 - and so on ... and so on ... and so on ...

On one level, we played a "numbers" game - in the sense we had it that smaller  audiences aren't as good as bigger  audiences, that bigger audiences are better than  smaller audiences. That's quite normal. Measurement of any success requires there be numbers and statistics - particularly big  numbers and favorable statistics. But now I've let that go. For this, I don't require that context. I'm clear about the victory of this project. I'm not stuck in any seeming scarcity with regard to attendance. And doing that, for me, is simply a matter of declaration rather than manipulating or obfuscating the facts.

Now, after this second occasion I've been privileged to bring Werner's transformation to South Africa. I can only imagine what we've caused. Soon after the first occasion, apartheid ended. Nothing will surprise me this time.

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