Capturing Daniel's essence

At least four film projects are attempting to portray Daniel Pearl's story, but his parents have their doubts.

daniel pearl 88 298 (photo credit: )
daniel pearl 88 298
(photo credit: )
Filmmakers are wrestling with four different projects to document or dramatize the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in early 2002, leaving behind a pregnant wife. Pearl's life and tragic death would seem a natural for the Hollywood treatment, but the delays and uncertainties of most of the projects are now raising two concerns. When will the films be completed? And will they reflect the complex nature, Jewish heritage and true legacy of the slain journalist? At this point, only one project has been completed, a 90-minute documentary on The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl, narrated by CNN correspondent Christine Amanpour and to be broadcast by HBO. An HBO spokeswoman said that the 90-minute documentary is to air sometime in October, but Judea and Ruth Pearl, Daniel's parents, said they had been given a specific date of Oct. 10, when their son would have marked his 43rd birthday. The film was directed by Pakistani Ahmed Jamal and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, and was briefly screened at New York's Tribeca Film Festival in April. A fair amount of publicity has surrounded the feature film "A Mighty Heart, partially because it is based on a book by Daniel Pearl's widow, and partially because the project has been inadvertently caught up in the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie saga. When Mariane Pearl completed her book, A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl in late 2003, Warner Brothers reportedly paid more than $500,000 for the film rights. The Plan B production company was to make the film, under the direction of owners Pitt and Aniston, who at the time were a couple, and Aniston was to play Mariane Pearl. Soon thereafter, however, Aniston and Pitt severed their marital and professional relationships. Pitt then entered into a relationship with Jolie, who now is reportedly in line to play the role of Pearl's wife. (Jolie and Pitt are currently in Namibia expecting their baby at any moment, so stay tuned.) Plan B's president, Dede Gardner, said through a spokeswoman that the film "is in development and we are currently working on the script," which is expected to follow the book's focus on the young couple's romance and marriage, followed by the wife's agonizing vigil after Pearl was kidnapped. Looking at the same topic with a different perspective and approach is Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, inspired by the book of the same title by Bernard-Henri Levy, in which the French writer described his yearlong investigation into the reporter's death. Producer Charlie Lyons has teamed up with executive producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, director Tod "Kip" Williams and screenwriter Peter Landesman to make the the film Beacon Pictures. Lyons, who is in New Zealand shooting another movie, e-mailed that he hopes to start filming the Pearl story in the fall. According to the studio, the script will differ from the book to avoid infringement on the Mighty Heart movie, or, as Lyons wrote, "Some elements of the story will allow for literary inspiration." For one, the movie will be mainly a political thriller in which author Levy will be transformed into an American celebrity television reporter, portrayed by Josh Lucas. Daniel Pearl himself will be fictionalized to some extent, "but the symbol and inspiration of Daniel is core" to the film, Lyons wrote. Finally, there are one or two references on the Internet to a film project billed as Infinite Justice. The title is not to be confused with a German effort, Operation Infinite Justice, which was the codename for the American buildup preceding the current war in Iraq, later renamed "Operation Enduring Freedom." According to skimpy reports, the film is to deal with "an American reporter (named Arnold Silverman), who is held hostage by Muslim fundamentalists in Karachi against the release of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay." The Pearl parents say that they have been unable to learn anything more about the project. Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor and widely known authority on artificial intelligence, and Ruth Pearl, an electrical engineer, express mixed sentiments about the rash of film projects. "I don't think they will be able to capture my feelings," said the father, while his wife added, "They (the filmmakers) are probably doing their best, but how can they express the emotions of a mother for her son?" Hoping for that degree of empathy may be asking for the impossible. But the Pearls, who have been consumed in finding a meaning for Daniel's death, also fear that his legacy might be ignored in favor of the more dramatic details of the last weeks of his life. For the past four years, the Pearls have poured their thoughts and energies into the Daniel Pearl Foundation, "to further the ideals that inspired Daniel's life and work." The broad aim of the foundation ( is to address the root causes of his murder by promoting "cross-cultural understanding," particularly between the Muslim and Western worlds, through journalism, music and innovative communication. "We would like the films, and other media coverage, to express the deeper significance of Daniel's life and death and to concentrate on the legacy and inspiration he left behind," said Judea Pearl. (JTA)