Eldon was one of four journalists stoned
and beaten to death July 12th 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, three
months before the events depicted in the film, Black Hawk Down.
UN forces had bombed a house where they believed
warlord Mohammed Aidid to be in hiding. Over sixty civilians were
killed. The enraged mob turned on the journalists who had just pulled
up to cover the bombing. Dan Eldon was 22 years old.
His photographs of the famine stricken and war torn
region had appeared in Time and Newsweek. After his death his mother,
Kathy gathered a treasure trove of collage journals, documenting
in original and imaginative style, his experiences and evolving
In 1995, The
Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon
was published, and created a sensation that
continues to this day. Dan Eldons journals have taken on a
life of their own. They seem to strike a chord that is not only
appreciative, but life altering. Amazon readers rave I have
never had a book influence me as much as this one, I
would recommend this book to anyone, but especially anyone who has
big dreams, but does not believe in his or her own potential.
Or as Rosie ODonnel declared, on my 40th birthday I
got Dan Eldons book, and I became brave, through him.
His art, his life, the force of his being.
Kathy and Dans sister Amy, made a deliberate choice to build
something positive from Dans death. While Kathy oversaw the
publication of the journals, she and Amy made a documentary
Dying to Tell the Story,
on foreign correspondents who put their lives at risk to bring us
the news from war zones. Two of the journalists featured have since
died in the field. They have formed a company, Creative Visions,
and are currently taping a TV series for PBS called Global Tribe
and developing a feature film based on the life of Dan Eldon. Dan
Eldons work and life continue to resonate. Dan
Eldon: the Art of Life, a biography
by Jennifer New, was published last year by Chronicle Books.
Book: What gave you the idea to publish
Kathy Eldon: Right
after he was killed, people started bringing out his journals. My
aunt found three in her garage, and I found three in my flat in
London, we collected together seventeen in all... I started to dream
about using the journals as a way to inspire other young people
I went from one publisher to another. One of my favorite
responses was, hes dead isnt he? So, hows
he going to promote the book? People really didnt get
it. Then Doubletake magazine did a story on Dan and one of the senior
editors at Chronicle Books, Irwin Rappe, spotted it. After the meeting,
they said, Kathy were not going to publish one journal, were
going to publish three.
The Book: The
Journey is the Destination, is three journals?
KE: Its a
compilation from the 17 journals. Its only 225 images out
of about 1800. And the website has a little more sampling from the
17. Theyre all works in progress. He was 13-14 when he started.
And you can see the evolution of this mind.
Amy Eldon: I think
its important to note that we werent publishing to memorialize
Dan, but to use his life as an inspiration to others.
KE: And the life
of an ordinary person who had an extraordinary way of viewing the
world. He was not a saint, nor somebody inaccessible.
AE: the other day
I was talking to Charles, our producer at CNN. I didnt understand
why the book moved him so much. Its because, instead of becoming
a doctor or a lawyer as his Korean parents expected of him, he became
a freelance producer where you dont make a lot of money, and
his parents, never got that. But he does want to make a difference,
and Dans book was an affirmation that it was okay to do this,
that this was important. And I think a lot of people have that reaction,
that you can to live a different kind of life, not just the path
thats well traveled.
The Book: Did you
anticipate that kind of response?
KE: this will sound
strange, but I believed that part of the purpose of Dans life
was his death, and how it was expressed; he was stoned to death
in the 20th Century. He could have died in a motorcycle accident
none of this would have happened. This story was well known around
the world. He lived in a hurry. He was rushing through life. Why?
They all thought I was a bit nutty to get this stuff out there.
AE: Its irritating,
because Ill be cruising through life and Ill be just
fine and I pick up that damn book and look through it and think,
am I living as much as I can, being as adventurous as I can? Am
I making an impact? It puts into sharper focus that which Im
forgetting in my life.
The Book: Is he
the standard you aspire to?
AE: In some ways.
Not all. He always forced me to push boundaries, to question, and
be more adventurous. I think he still pushes me on that level. He
showed me how to live with courage. Actually he gave me courage,
he showed me how to live with passion and compassion, and through
his death, gave me a voice. I had to decide what to do with it.
I still very much feel that responsibility, because I did wonder
when I was 19, why did this happen to me? Is this a mistake, or
is there something else that I have to be doing? Making Dying
to Tell the Story was the beginning.
The Book: One of
these Amazon reviews describes Dan as a hero. Would you say hes
AE: I think he would
hate to be described as a hero. If a hero is someone who sacrifices
his life for others, then all of them were heroes that day because
they went in to the compound to tell a story that really needed
to be told, and they died.
KE: I think the
beauty is that hes not a hero. Hes one of us. He just
had a conviction that he could change things, that one person could
make a difference.
The Book: But not
everyone would have the courage to walk into a war zone when they
didnt have to be there.
KE: When you put
a frog in boiling water, it will jump out, but if you put it in
cool water and slowly heat it up.. you get used to a certain level
of danger, and its not that youre in any way foolhardy,
and they did quite an extensive study of whether those guys did
something they shouldnt have, but you get used to it. When
we went to Somalia, a cameraman was kidnapped at our hotel, a day
after we left. If we had been there we would have been with him.
But there was no way we werent going to go in and tell that
story. The bombing of that house was an important story.
Book: Tell us a bit about Global Tribe:
how would you describe the show?
KE: Its a
travel show with a difference.
AE: Its a
new genre, its not a travel show, its not a news piece,
KE: It takes you
on a journey. When her brother was killed, Amy saw the effects of
misunderstanding and revenge and hatred. She went on a quest around
the world for people trying to find solutions.
AE: Seeing the way
the world could work. It was a progression from Dying To Tell the
Story. We started in South Africa looking at racial healing, how
whites, blacks, coloreds were coming together. For The Philippines
we did a story about a group of people who live off the garbage
dump there. There is a massive center at the bottom of the dump
that Martin Sheen built. Its a bathhouse where the kids can
splash around, take a shower, and the parents run it, so they have
a sense of pride and dignity. Its not going to end the garbage
crisis, but at least its one solution.
The Book: What is
the state of Mogadishu today?
no infrastructure. People are so inventive that they make things
work, but its a disaster.
AE: When we went,
we had to go very early in the morning, so nobody would know we
were coming. The airport is this bombed out little office, and we
had forty bodyguards, it was the presidential envoy, and theres
no one side of the street that you drive on, its just a game
of chicken, and whoever has the biggest AK 47 wins. Then we broke
down and we all had to shift to a car... its just total anarchy.
no electricity, no houses.
AE: People just
squat outside these bombed out shells of buildings. I cant
imagine how people live like that.
KE: And it used
to be the most beautiful city in east Africa!
The Book: Carlos
Mavroleon, whom you profiled in Dying to Tell the Story, said he
had been going every year to Afghanistan, since the end of Soviet
occupation trying to get people to pay attention to what was going
on there, but no one would listen.
AE: And thats
how he died. He was trying to cross the border to interview this
guy called Osama Bin Laden, and thats when he died.
Book: How did it happen?
AE: We dont
know. He was on assignment for 60 Minutes, he snuck across the border
dressed as a doctor, and shortly thereafter he was held overnight
and accused of being a spy. Later he called 60 Minutes and said
Im fine, just a bit shaken, and then he was found dead in
his hotel room with the door closed, but they were saying there
was a needle with heroin, and he used to be a heroin addict... he
may have overdosed. KE: And the beautiful Mohamed Shaffy, [the only
journalist to survive the attack that killed Dan Eldon and three
others,] Mo, died about a year ago in Jerusalem. He was on assignment
for Reuters and went to his room and didnt come out. They
broke down the door. He had died of a heart attack. I personally
believe he died of a broken heart, I dont think he ever recovered
from the death of his friends.
always been our message. These people risk their lives every day
to bring us the news, the least we can do is pay attention. Its
so frustrating, all the foreign bureaus have been closed down.
KE: one of out themes
is stopping the cycle of revenge.
whats amazing about my parents. After Dan died there was no
thought of vengeance. It was immediately looking towards forgiveness.
And I did that because they did. Its the Gandhi quote: if
you want to see the brave, look to those who can forgive, if you
want to see the heroic look to those who can love in return for
Book: Tell us about the feature film
based on Dans life youre developing.
KE: In 1996, Lisa
Henson saw the article in Doubletake magazine, wanted to make a
film about Dan, working together with Janet Yang who did The Joy
Luck Club. Jan Sardin who wrote Shine wrote the first couple of
drafts. Later we attached Bronwen Hughes who directed Forces of
Nature and Harriet the Spy. She rewrote the script. So now, we have
to find the right up and coming young man to play the part. The
challenge of doing a real character is if you veer from historical
truth, people get very cross. You have to make an entertaining feature
film, not a documentary, so weve had to look for the higher
truth, yet make a film that people want to see.
The Book: And what
is the higher truth you hope to get across?
AE: Showing people
the possibility of making a difference, whoever they are, just making
a difference in your own community.
KE: Living the life
of your choice. Sometimes we dont know what our purpose is,
and the film is about uncovering it, and then living it fully. Its
about our shared humanity, about looking behind the worst. Black
Hawk Down was a brilliant war film, but you didnt care about
the Somalis at all, it was like a video game where you pop off the
black people. I hope people understand from our film why the Somalis
were doing what they were doing, that they see impoverished Somalis
in the refugee camp, and understand that they are people.
Book: Does Black Hawk Down revolve around
the same incident?
KE: That happened
three months later. What happened on July12th led to Blackhawk Down,
because the people were so enraged by this unprecedented bombing.
[General] Aidid was not in the house they bombed. They did not give
the people warning. 60 people died, women, children. There was rage.
AE: I think part
of the message of the feature is that we dont know how much
time we have. Anything could happen at any time, so whatever it
is you want to do, do it, be it, live it, seize it.
KE: Dans spirit
surrounds everything I do. I believe passionately that Ive
been able to do what Ive been able to do because we have this,
I call it, team spirit, friends in high places watching
AE: I always knew
that Dan would make an impact in his life, I just didnt know
it would be so quickly.
KE: I think for
Amy its hard to realize that shes making an impact,
because she is the living one, lighting the way with her own torch.
For a while, it was Dan giving her the voice, but shes got
her own voice now and her own issues... There are so many days that
I think what are we doing, then Ill get three letters saying,
Im so grateful, and then I think, Okay, step up to the plate
for another day, and just keep going. Were never bored.