Thank you, Chancellor Block. I am gratified to receive this medal.
This sure may well be the highest honor a drop-out from UC Berkeley has ever received. I did have 5 years of non-academic education at sea.
Oh yes, I did get a medal from President Franklin Roosevelt.
And Dean Rosen, I am also honored to be here with you. Even though you’re retiring, the basic mission of this program will continue. I am so admiring of the school’s commitment to connect high standards of professionalism in Theatre, Film, Television and Digital Media with the social issues of the real world.
Greetings, storytellers! Welcome to Life. The Movie.
I see Professor Marina Goldovskaya in the audience. Hi Marina! I think it was 1970 or so when you interviewed me for Soviet television. I had just completed the U.S. scenes for my film “War Without Winners” and now I needed shots of Russian autoworkers. Paul Newman and Admiral Gene LaRoque put up the money because they wanted to speak out about the insanity of nuclear war. Mutually Assured Destruction—MAD. Good Americanism against evil, godless Communism.
Do we feel more secure now that we have improved and remote ways to kill and destroy: it’s reality, not a video game. Now the ism is terrorism. How do you kill an ism?
When I was making my picture “Latino” I was up close to U.S. sponsored terrorism in Nicaragua. They were called Contras. President Regan said, “They were the morally equivalent of our founding fathers.”
I liked the picture “Dead Man Walking”. Sean Penn’s character sentenced to death for murder was asked for last words. “Killing is bad… if I do it, you all do it, or if the government does it.”
You are graduating. I know the pressures out there are very strong for you to accept the conventional definitions of success. We are storytellers committed to entertain and engage our viewers. I believe you, as artists, can have a conscience and still do good, professional work.
Life “the movie”. They try to sell us a scenario that we are the good guys, the chosen ones with God on our side. That we fight back. That we have the right. Some even call it patriotic duty… to bring civilization to the rest of the planet.
Shortly before he died, President Kennedy gave a commencement address at American University about peace—what he called “the most important and least understood topic” in the world.
“What kind of peace do I mean?” JFK asked the graduates. “What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.”
In a decaying society politics becomes Theater. Bruce Springsteen said, “We live in a time when what is true can be made to seem a lie. And what is a lie can be made to seem true.”
Orwell said that in a time of deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. I am not asking you to commit a revolutionary act. I am asking if you will accept the challenge to be artful storytellers and truth seekers.
Your stories can have an affect on this world. They are an essential part of our moral conversation. As skilled and talented artists, you have a responsibility to yourself, and to all of us.
I remember 43 years ago we were involved in the Viet Nam war. When I received an Academy Award, on the way up to the stage, I thought this might be the only time in my life to speak to millions of people. I said what was in my heart, what was then considered unpatriotic words, “I hope we can use our art for peace and love.”
One change I like to make now – we must use our art for “peace and love”.