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The 60 students enrolled in two of religious studies professor Norman Cornett's courses gathered on Friday, November 25 to welcome Jake Eberts, film producer and McGill graduate, to a "studio session." Prior to the session, the students spent many hours viewing, analyzing, and reflecting upon a number of his films, including A River Runs Through It, The Killing Fields, Gandhi, Dances with Wolves, The Emerald Forest, and Prisoner of Paradise.
Before opening the floor for questions, Cornett read aloud some of the reflections his students had written in response to Eberts's works. One student wrote: "[Eberts's] films are some of the most thought-provoking and inspiring films of our time ... It's inspiring that someone who once sat where I am today has made so much of himself."
Eberts, who was born in Quebec in 1941 and graduated from McGill with a degree in chemical engineering, was met with the question "How did you get into the movie business?" Commenting on his unforeseen career change at age 35, Eberts said "It just happened," reminding his audience that "accidents are often the happiest moments of your life."
Eberts attributed the success of his film career to the connection he feels to his work: "I have never worked on a film that didn't appeal to me, that didn't feel good in my gut." Well, almost never. The one exception was Super Mario Brothers. "I did it because my kids were dying to have me do it, and we used it as a means to spend the summer together working on a movie," he said. (Fortunately, he was pleased to have worked on the kid's flick Chicken Run.)
Eberts also attributed the success of his films to the "everyman's story" element within them: "When you start making art it shouldn't be too topical, because [then] it won't have a long-tem impact."
He talked of one of his favourites, The Killing Fields, a film in which "images [are used] to tell the story and dialogue [is used] to hold the images together."
Despite his financial success, Eberts advised the students not to focus their career visions solely on the basis of money. "The money," he said, "will come from the most unlikely places." He has undertaken many philanthropic projects, including at McGill. Eberts has recently joined forces with McGill's First Peoples' House to help students have access to funds, opportunities, and support in integrating into Montreal.
"So, what's next?" one student asked. Eberts replied that he is currently working on a film called Oceans. Sixty percent of it will be shot underwater using a state-of-the art HP camera. Some scenes have been shot by attaching the camera to a torpedo-fuelled boat, to keep up with dolphins and other fast-moving underwater creatures.
The last question to Eberts, who currently lives in Paris, was why throughout his career he has never lived in Hollywood. "Something about that place is just deadening to the creative soul," he said, laughing.