Knowledge is the Beginning is the story of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, where young Arabs and Jews perform and live side by side. It is a film about what music can do; the way it can transcend cultural barriers, bring people together, defeat prejudice and overcome religious and political differences. It also demonstrates the problems that crop up occasionally and how music can help people from different points of view find common ground. For Daniel Barenboim, founder of the ensemble, the orchestra is a symbol for what could be achieved in the Middle East.
Paul SmacznyI was working on a profile of Daniel Barenboim when, in August 1999, he invited me to come and film in Weimar, Germany. At that time he and his friend Edward Said were in the process of setting up the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra project.
I thought I would stay and film two or three days to document Barenboim’s activities (as part of his profile) in reconciling Israelis and Palestinians. I ended up following this unique experience for seven years.
For me, Knowledge is the Beginning is a film about what music can do; the way it can transcend cultural barriers, bring people together, defeat prejudice and overcome religious and political differences. Playing in an orchestra teaches the Arab and Israeli kids of the West-Eastern Divan not only to share a music stand with people they had no contact with before, but even more, to listen to the other and simultaneously express themselves as individuals.
I think that the West-Eastern Divan gives us an idea of what the Middle East might be. And I hope that my film helps to illuminate the power of Daniel Barenboim’s vision – of a productive and harmonious Arab-Israeli co-existence.