Last night I had a chance to see Danny Schechter's remarkable and moving documentary, We Are Family. This is the film that was made on Sept. 22 and 23 with celebrities, doctors, firemen, and police personnel to raise money for World Trade Center-related charities.
The impetus for the film was a gathering of these people, thought up by famed record producer Nile Rodgers and his girlfriend, Nancy Hunt. The people who came — including Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and Dionne Warwick — all sang Rodgers' 1979 hit for Sister Sledge, "We Are Family" with slightly altered lyrics. I was there that afternoon, and it was a spiritual experience — even when Diana Ross freaked out and tried to become the director.
The film, which I will tell you more about in a minute, is wonderful. It is a must-see experience for everyone interested in the effects of 9/11. In fact, on March 11 — the six month anniversary of this terrible tragedy — a number of networks including PBS and VH1 will show a children's video taken from the We Are Family project. Cartoon characters who are usually not allowed to mingle on air — they come from different owners — all mix it up on camera to sing this song.
But there's a hitch — ah, there's always a hitch isn't there? Joan Rivers is hopping mad at Schechter and Rodgers. If she isn't appeased, Rivers — no wallflower — could turn the whole situation into a mess.
Joan, you see, was supposed to be one of the celebs to participate in the taping. But on the day before the taping she pulled out, claiming in the New York Post's Page Six that the charities who would benefit from We Are Family were not the ones she was promised.
As it turned out, Rodgers had decided that some of the proceeds would go to teaching about racial discrimination, particularly anti-Arab sentiments. Right after the World Trade Center attacks, several hate crimes were committed against Arab-Americans across the country and Rodgers wanted to do something about that.
Rivers objected, saying she wasn't interested in that problem at that moment. "I'm just in shock. It's a bait and switch, and no one knows it," Rivers told Page Six. "I'm not intolerant toward Arabs or Muslims," Rivers said. "But now is not the time for that. I'm boycotting."
In the movie, though, Rodgers and other celebrities discuss Rivers' decision to pull out of the project. Rivers is cited telling them, "[Expletive] world peace." In so many words.
Rivers, of course, is fuming. She told me last night after attending a cocktail party for Liz Smith's Literacy Partners: "I never said that. I said '[Expletive] the Muslims. [Expletive] terrorism.' I'm furious, and I will contact my attorneys. I will call in [powerhouse entertainment lawyer] Bert Fields if I have to."
My guess is that her segment will get cut before We Are Family debuts on Friday in New York at the Screening Room in Tribeca. But even Joan will probably cool off enough to see that the rest of We Are Family is necessary and poignant and well-told by all the participants.
What's so great about this unusual documentary is seeing and hearing very talented people backstage, with their hair down, talking, singing, and performing for each other. Patti LaBelle literally steals the show with her enormous gift of a voice, but several other singers make impressions, including Luther Vandross, Kim Burrell, Roberta Flack, Angie Stone and Kenny Latimore.
Many actors are involved, too, including Rosie Perez, who gets a funny moment when she talks about being intimidated by the divas. "First they put me next to Phoebe Snow and I ran away, then next to Patti LaBelle and I got away from her. I went and sang near the men and then I could be the diva!"
Plenty of others hold their own — Rosie is just being cute — including Matthew Modine, Macaulay Culkin, Gina Gershon, Milla Jovovich, David Hasselhoff, director Spike Lee, writer/singer Bebe Buell, and Foreigner's Mick Jones.
Ironically, the We Are Family project was supposed to include Michael Jackson. Rodgers invited him and he accepted, then backed out at the last minute to do his "What More Can I Give?" song and charity. That one has never surfaced, while We Are Family has already spawned a single, now the film, a video, and a forthcoming album.
We Are Family has so far not been bought by VH1 or PBS, which is a shame. It's really a movie that has to be shown right now. When the producers couldn't interest any TV broadcasters, they decided to release it instead to art houses and go for an Oscar nomination. A film has to play for six months in theatres before it has a TV showing in order to qualify for the Academy Award, so We Are Family will play around the country between now and next September. Go see it, and if it's not playing in your town soon, ask your local small movie house to get it.
The Oscar balloting continues this week, and this is the latest I've heard from some voters: In the Bedroom could turn out to be the As Good As It Gets of 2002. This is how it works: In 1997, Titanic won best picture, while Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt took the best acting honors for As Good As It Gets. Now the thinking among Academy voters is that Lord of the Rings will swoop in for best picture, with the acting awards going to Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom. Supporting honors would go to Jennifer Connelly for A Beautiful Mind and Jim Broadbent for Iris. It's all possible, though Denzel Washington is still a strong contender for Training Day.
If you threw a rock in any direction last night at Elaine's famous eatery on the Upper East Side, you'd have hit a bold face name. At one table: famed rock sax man Tom Scott with his companion May Pang (attention Britney: she was John Lennon's girlfriend 1973-74) and famed singer Phoebe Snow; at another actors Ron Silver and Zack Norman were celebrating the opening of their film Festival in Cannes, directed by Henry Jaglom. Patricia Duff Medavoy Perelman was in that group, along with the actor Maximillian Schell and producer Beverly Camhe.
I told you over the weekend that Britney Spears has no idea who Yoko Ono is. Maybe that will change.
Ono is taking out a huge billboard in London's Picadilly Circus. The banner will read: "Imagine all the people living life in peace." In case you don't know, that's the chorus of Ono's late husband John Lennon's famous song, "Imagine." He recorded it in 1971, a year after the Beatles split up.
I say all this because one witty letter writer told us yesterday that she quizzed her 17-year-old daughter about Ono. The response: "He was in the Olympics, wasn't he?"
If you're over 40, and you're wincing right now, here's some consolation: we're half the way home, kids.