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Meeting Haile Selassie and my son's drawings (Part 2)

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Meeting Haile Selassie and my son's drawings (Part 1)
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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So, on this trip to Africa, the purpose was to make a film of the Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, newly appointed, with the JFK Administration which had just come in. The idea was to follow him around as he went from one country to another, learning directly just what it was all about in each country. So we were to start out in Ethiopia and I arrived a week or so early in Ethiopia. And somehow, I don't know how it was, I got an appointment to see the top guy there, and so I entered his office; on the floor was a rug with an enormous Star of David. And then as I passed this rug, I came to his desk and there was this little guy sitting behind the desk with a military cap on and a chest covered with ribbons and medals and so forth. And we just stared at each other. This went on, I don't know, for at least five minutes. And I didn't feel uncomfortable and I don't think he did except there was a moment in which I think he felt a little insecure. And that was it. And this was Haile Selassie the Emperor. The lion of Judah. And many years went by and then a couple of years ago I happened to run across a biography of the Emperor Haile Selassie, page 190, I believe, spoke of the fact that the one thing that was forbidden in Ethiopia at that time was that any citizen cast his eye upon the Emperor. And that explained suddenly why it was that he was so engaged and so fascinated with the opportunity to look somebody else in the eye because- he could do that because I was from another country. And then- and then in those intervening years my son, who is now 26 and who was at that time six years old, he came home one day with a pastel, a drawing. It suddenly- I recognised, as abstract as the face was, it had a crown made of the Star of David, a man with a beard, little shoulders indicating that he was kind of small, right, and vulnerable; and with the look in those eyes which was exactly and only precisely the look that Haile Selassie gave me. And there's no way that I can track it down except to think that somehow or other something genetic and unexplainable otherwise was taking place. And there have been connections like that with my son especially when he was that young. At the same time I remember when he was six or so, I remember going to Detroit to do some commercial work and my brother had to arrive several days later. When he arrived he said that he had this extraordinary experience on a plane talking with a woman, a nun, who had been a nun for 17 years and who had been working with people of the Holocaust and such who- where they were being helped by Christians. And she gave my brother some literature including a book, and my brother gave me the book, which I then read on the way back to New York. And the book was by Elie Weisel and it was called "Night". I arrived home, opened the door and sat down, and my son, who had just made this sketch, handed it to me. I looked at it and it was a sketch that was drawn with a marker. And I said how was it you used a marker? And he said oh, it was night. Well, the name of the book that Elie Weisel has written was "Night", about the Holocaust, of course.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tags: Africa, Ethiopia, Star of David, Detroit, Holocaust, New York, Night, John F Kennedy, Haile Selassie, David Maysles, Elie Weisel

Duration: 5 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008