Prolific, Emmy Award-winning, self-taught Canadian film and television producer-director Paul Saltzman has long been creating culturally significant and groundbreaking films, and generating community dialogue that matters.
At 1 p.m. Monday at the CWC House, Saltzman will launch the 2016 Professional Women’s Network speaker series with an audience dialogue about “Why All Men Need to be Feminists.”
Saltzman said his mother, Rose Cohen, who named him after the renowned artist and American civil rights pioneer Paul Robeson, instilled in him her most fundamental tenet: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” He said she firmly believed “that all people should be treated with respect, including women.”
“Feminism is about women having rights,” Saltzman said. “It’s no different than the Black Civil Rights Movement or any other human rights effort. … Feminism is a form of humanism. It took me two struggle-based marriages to discover intimacy. … Feminism serves men as well as women.”
Saltzman, who founded Sunrise Films in 1973 and has crafted more than 300 films — including documentaries, dramas and family action-adventures — said he has always been an activist and a deeply reflective soul.
Most recently he has engaged in civil and human rights activism through screening discussions of two of his acclaimed films, 2009’s “Prom Night in Mississippi” and 2011’s “The Last White Knight – Is Reconciliation Possible?”
Those feature documentaries are at the core of Saltzman’s initiatives to halt the spread of prejudice and bullying across North America under the auspices of the Toronto-based nonprofit he co-founded in 2011, Moving Beyond Prejudice. MBP’s Board of Advisors includes Morgan Freeman (featured in both films), and Harry Belafonte (in “The Last White Night”).
Following the screening and audience discussion of “Prom Night in Mississippi” at the White House in December 2011, Saltzman was recognized as a community leader by the President and First Lady.
Last June, Chautauqua Cinema held a special Meet the Filmmaker screening of “The Last White Knight.” It is based on Saltzman’s experience in 1965 as a 21-year-old voter registration volunteer with Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the highly segregationist town of Greenwood, Mississippi. Forty-two years later he returned to reconcile with the well-connected Klu Klux Klan member who had not only assaulted him in 1965, but also had him arrested and jailed.
Although he was not a great book learner, Saltzman said as a teenager he read and familiarized himself with Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent activism. Both Gandhi and his mother inspired him to travel from Toronto to Washington, D.C., to lobby U.S. Congress members for equal voting rights, and then to Mississippi to volunteer with SNCC.
For Saltzman, the core of feminism is “about equality and freedom for both men and women.” It is also about nonviolence.
Intrigued by the “physics of life and how it works,” Saltzman said it took him years to learn about himself and how to move from pain to joy.
“My joy is experiential,” he said.
His partner, life coach and self-described “joyologist” Anne Peace, opened the CPWN’s 2015 series with an exploration of the art and science of joy.
According to Saltzman, The Beatles played a part in his soul-searching. He said wanted to know what they were talking about in the lyrics of their songs, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and “The Inner Light.” He would soon learn firsthand.
Having studied engineering science, Saltzman served in 1968 as the sound engineer for the Albert Kish documentary, “Juggernaut,” following a nuclear reactor’s 70-ton calandria as it passed through 600 miles of India to the province of Rajasthan. At the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in the holy city of Rishikesh, Saltzman met The Beatles, who invited him to join them.
The dozens of shots Saltzman took in India of The Beatles are among the band’s best intimate photos. Galleries worldwide have shown them; they are on permanent exhibition in Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Saltzman released them in two books, The Beatles in Rishikesh and The Beatles in India.
According to Geoff Alexander of The Academic Film Archive of North America, “Canadian director/producer Paul Saltzman’s films are so good that [they leave] the viewer wondering — in a world in which everyone seems to have gotten his or her 15 minutes of fame — how he or she could possibly have missed his films along the way. … Saltzman will, we believe, be better known as a photographer than a filmmaker, due to [his] fortuitous meeting [with The Beatles].”
“I’m just proud that I’ve always chosen to make films and to work with people from the heart,” Saltzman said. “I’m proud that I’ve been able to follow the path of heart in my life. It’s the richest path to follow.”