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Knowledge is the Beginning

A Film by: Paul Smaczny 
(Germany, 2006, 115 Minutes, Color, English, English subtitles)

Knowledge is the Beginning is the story of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra where young Arabs and Jews perform side by side. The film illustrates how prejudices are overcome during rehearsals, concerts and after-concert celebrations. 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. 

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a name derived from a collection of poems by Goethe, today embraces eighty Arab and Israeli musicians aged thirteen to twenty-six. Director Paul Smaczny has followed the orchestra since its inception. The film chronicles all five summer workshops in Weimar and Seville, Barenboim’s visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem in May 2004 – during which he received the prestigious Wolf Prize at the Knesset – as well as the sensational concert in Ramallah in August 2005.

In the early 1990s, a chance meeting between Mr. Barenboim and the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said in a London hotel lobby led to an intense friendship that has had both political and musical repercussions. 

These two men, who should have been poles apart politically, discovered in that first meeting, which lasted for hours, that they had similar visions of Israeli/Palestinian possible future cooperation. 

They decided to continue their dialogue and to collaborate on musical events to further their shared vision of peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. This led to Mr. Barenboim's first concert on the West Bank, a piano recital at the Palestinian Birzeit University in February 1999, and to a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East that took place in Weimar, Germany, in August 1999.

The West-Eastern Divan Workshop took two years to organize and involved talented young musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel.

The idea was that they would come together to make music on neutral ground with the guidance of some of the world's best musicians. Weimar was chosen as the site for the workshop because of its rich cultural tradition of writers, poets, musicians and creative artists and because it was the 1999 European cultural capital. Mr. Barenboim wisely chose two concertmasters for the orchestra, an Israeli and a Lebanese. 

There were some tense moments among the young players at first but, coached by members of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the Staatskapelle Berlin, and following master classes with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and nightly cultural discussions with Mr. Said and Mr. Barenboim, the young musicians worked and played in increasing harmony. The West-Eastern Divan Workshop was held again in Weimar in the summer of 2000 and in Chicago in the summer of 2001. It has since found a permanent home in Seville, Spain, where it has been based since 2002.

Edward Said passed away in 2003 but his partnership with Daniel Barenboim lives on through the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and Orchestra and through the Barenboim-Said Foundation, which promotes music and co-operation through projects targeted at young Arabs and Israelis.


“Paul Smaczy has accompanied the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded in 1999 by Edward W. Said and Daniel Barenboim, for six years.  What has resulted is a must-see cinematic work of art …” - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20/08/05

“Il faut regarder "Knowledge Is The Beginning", le documentaire exceptionnel de Paul Smaczny …” - Le Monde, 25/08/06


• Award for Best Arts Documentary - Banff World Television Festival 2007
• San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2007 
• International Emmy Award 2006 Arts Programming (2006) 
• FIPA D’OR Grand Prize 2007 Category, “Performing Arts” (2007)
• Award for the Documentary of Highest Cultural Value, DOCFEST Palermo 
• ECHO Klassik 2006 
• Basel-Karlsruhe-Forum 2007 - The Youth Jury Prize (2007)
• San Diego Jewish Film Festival - Audience Award for Best Documentary 
• Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival
• Mexico Jewish Film Festival
• Northern Virginia  Jewish Film Festival
• Detroit Jewish Film Festival
• Temple Israel, Sharon MA
• Tucson Jewish Film Festival
• Beth El, Aptos CA  Jewish Film Festival
• Cherry Hill (NJ) Jewish Film Festival
• San Antonio Jewish Film Festival
• Venezuela Jewish Film Festival
• Durham Chappel Jewish Film Festival
• New Jersey Jewish Film Festival
• Pioneer Valley MA Jewish Film Festival
• Pittsburgh  Jewish Film Festival
• Dayton Jewish Film Festival
• Vancouver Jewish Film Festival
• White Sands International Film Festival (New Mexico)
• Cleveland International Film Festival 
• Tricycle Theatre (UK)
• Museum of World Culture (Sweden)
• Middle East Film Festival (Paris)
• Lisbon International Documentary Film Festival 
• Jecheon International Music and Film Festival (South Korea)
• Melbourne International Film Festival 
• Rodos Ecofilms Festival (Greece)
• Banff World Television Festival 2007 (Canada)
• Krakow Film Festival 
• Bath International Music Festival 
• Halifax Jewish Cultural Festival 
• Salt Lake Jewish Film Festival
• Barcelona Jewish Film Festival
• Berkshire (MA) Jewish Film Festival
• Youngstown Jewish Film Festival
• Sao Paulo Jewish Film Festival
• Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival
• San Jose Jewish Film Festival
• Allentown Jewish Film Series
• Charlotte Jewish Film Festival
• ISJL-Jewish Cinema South
Screening fee:  $400.00

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