Streisand Introduces Film At Benefit Screening

Posted: January 25, 1999 on BJSMUSIC.COM

Koch, Streisand, and Corman

Note: The article below originally appeared on Mark Iskowitz's website, The Barbra Streisand Music Guide. It is reprinted here with his permission.

Monday evening, January 18, Barbra Streisand made her first public appearance of 1999 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, California to introduce the documentary, City At Peace, at a benefit screening for the Liberty Hill Foundation. Streisand spoke briefly before the film, which she and Barwood president Cis Corman executive-produced last year. It chronicles a year-long volunteer theater project by urban teenagers.

Wearing basic black, from her turtle neck sweater and jacket to her long skirt and boots, Streisand took the podium after being introduced by the film's director Susan Koch, who said the "philanthropist who puts her money where her mouth is" really required no introduction. After the audience's warm welcome, Streisand donned reading glasses for her remarks, which lasted only a few minutes. She noted special significance in the screening being on Martin Luther King Day and spoke about the dedication and hardships of the young people who participated in the project (see complete text below).

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Today, our nation celebrates and honors the birth and life of a great man, Martin Luther King. Thirty-five years ago, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and spoke eloquently about his dreams for America. He dreamt of a time when "black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." He hoped for the day when our children would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

We have come a long way since August 23, 1963, but there's a lot more to be done to fulfill Dr. King's dreams. All too often people are still judged by the color of their skin, the neighborhood they live in, their religious beliefs, or their sexual preference.

It is very fitting that we are screening the film documentary, "City At Peace" tonight. The film is an example of what Dr. King stood for. It shows us how much we can achieve when we overcome our prejudices and put aside our fears. The young people featured in this film found the courage to confront their differences. It wasn't easy, but in doing so they discovered strength in their diversity. They made friendships they never imagined possible. They showed us how much stronger we are when we walk together. "We are woven into a seamless garment of destiny," Dr. King told us. "We must be one America."

"This gripping documentary," one reporter wrote, "is real - which means it isn't always pretty." For several years, filmmakers Susan and Christopher Koch followed a diverse group of young people who came together to create and perform a musical production based on their lives and their conflicts.

The passion, patience and sensitivity Susan and Chris invested in this work are evident in the powerful impact of the film. As director, Susan Koch built a trust with the kids. This allowed them to express their frustrations and fears openly. The camera became invisible. The film, edited by Jeff Werner, allows them to tell their stories in their own words.

No one could have predicted what would happen during the year these young people spent together. They were forced to confront racism...AIDS...the breakdown of families...violent shootings...all as part of their everyday lives. Even the musical director, Rickey Payton, Sr., would discover no one is immune.

Cast members traveled over an hour and a half to get to rehearsal. Others scrambled and begged for bus fare. Many ventured into unknown and frightening territory. Still they came, believing that together they stood a better chance of having their voices heard. Their year together is an inspiration to all of us.

This film resonates personally for me for another reason. It shows in a very real and profound way how the performing arts can transform our lives. It is terrifying, but empowering, to perform in front of an audience. One feels completely exposed, vulnerable, open to judgment and criticism. It takes courage to do that, especially when you've never acted or sung...or danced before.

Music has a way of bringing people together. Quite simply, the arts can and do change lives.

Cis Corman and I are proud to be a part of this project.

We'd like to thank Liberty Hill for making this evening possible, and we thank all of you for joining us. We hope the young people featured in this film touch you as much as they have touched us. Thank you.

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Just before taking a seat in the back with husband James Brolin to view the film, Streisand elicited the audience's patience, saying "We're just going to take a few pictures." With Cis Corman on her left and Susan Koch on her right, she and others involved in the film graciously posed for photographers in the front of the theater.

Posing at the screening

Following the screening, a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception took place in the theater and recognized additional contributors to the film, including Streisand's close friend, Richard Baskin. Everyone in the audience had the option of attending, as part of their $75.00 or $150.00 donation. The Liberty Hill Foundation, which began in 1976, has distributed more than $7 million to 800 community groups in L.A., working on urban issues such as youth violence, racial tension, discrimination, poverty, affordable housing and environmental health. Funds from the screening will support its annual grantmaking programs, many of which enhance the lives of young people in L.A.

The 90-minute City At Peace, which received the 1998 Crystal Heart Award, premiered in L.A. last year and will be shown on HBO this May. The film was part of the Frame by Frame: an HBO Documentary Film Series, which was held in New York last October. Produced by Christopher Koch and edited by Streisand's frequent collaborator, Jeff Werner (The Mirror Has Two Faces), the documentary "makes a strong case for creating harmony and tranquility by bringing together people of differing backgrounds in a common enterprise," writes New York Times reviewer Lawrence Van Gelder. "As they tell their confessional stories of broken homes, emotional deprivation, murder, rape, hustling, struggle, and teen-age pregnancy, these youngsters begin to overcome the barriers between them by achieving understanding of what their lives have in common." In Washington, D.C., the group came together every Saturday for 12 months to create and perform the musical production. The Streisand Foundation is one of several organizations which contributed financial grants to the theater project.

Koch, Streisand and Corman smiling

Kim Wilson, Sherri Rose, and Michelle Conner contributed to this report.
Photography: Sherri Rose.