Diplomatic Pouch / August 6, 2015
By Larry Luxner
Sharon Stone, the sultry blonde whose character famously seduced Michael Douglas 23 years ago in the erotic detective thriller “Basic Instinct,” seems more concerned these days with promoting Middle East peace and stopping online bullying.
Stone, 57, was the star attraction at a July 25 fundraiser hosted by Shahin Mafi, trustee of the nonprofit Azar Foundation for Children of the World.
The $1,000-a-plate gathering — held under a huge transparent tent in Mafi’s sprawling Potomac backyard — attracted about 60 people, including 10 media reps and five foreign ambassadors posted to Washington: David Newman of Botswana; Peter Gandalovic of the Czech Republic; Christos Panagolpoulos of Greece; Maguy Maccario Doyle of Monaco; and Neil Parsan of Trinidad & Tobago.
Also present were officials of Azerbaijan, Bolivia and Honduras, as well as former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown; Joan Wages, president and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum; Allyson McKithen of the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, and mistress of ceremonies Jan DuPlain.
“Our foundation is honored to partner with any cause saving children,” Mafi said. “I am so proud to participate in making a film regarding cyber-bullying.”
The highlight of the evening was the screening of “Admissions,” a 20-minute short film written by John Viscount and produced by Gavin Behrman that tells the story of an Israeli couple killed in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing, along with the Palestinian who set off the blast. The three of them end up in Admissions, a sort of waiting room where they spend exactly 15 minutes with a no-nonsense clerk — played by James Cromwell — before ending up in heaven or hell for the rest of eternity.
“I wrote the script as a response to 9/11,” Viscount told the Diplomatic Pouch as the other guests chattered over cocktails. “In my story, not only do you have a terrorist attack, but then they have to confront each other in the afterlife.”
Adding to the irony, Kuwaiti-born Anthony Batarse plays the Jewish husband, Pakistani actress Anna Khaja plays the Jewish wife, and Israeli actor Oren Dayan portrays the Arab terrorist.
“Ten years after I wrote it, a friend asked me to do a script, and all of my film’s teachings were still just as relevant. So we did a Kickstarter campaign, raised $17,000 and through my contacts we were able to get the script to James Cromwell. We actually produced this film in a weekend,” said Viscount, a 53-year-old Maryland native who went to Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School and now lives in California.
“Quite a few Israelis say they love it, though one Israeli woman said she thought it was a propaganda piece for the Palestinians,” he said. “In fact, the heroine of the film is the Israeli wife. I did that on purpose because she’s the one who calms down both sides, who have the shared pain of having lost their children.”
Asked if his movie makes any sort of political statement about the Arab-Israeli conflict, Viscount simply said: “I like to write about easily identifiable people. If you’re the kind of person who goes through life looking for separation, you’re probably going to hate this film.”
Although “Admissions” cost only $60,000 to make, it’s garnered 26 awards and has been translated into Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and Farsi. Some 80 million people have viewed it online.
The film is part of a much larger effort by a nonprofit group called PeaceNow (not to be confused with the famous Israeli movement of the same name) that seeks to get one billion signatures for a petition to create Ministries of Peace in every one of the 193 member states of the United Nations.
So far, according to Viscount, the petition has attracted 15,000 signatures, and only a handful of nations — Costa Rica, Nepal, South Sudan and Timor-Leste among them — have actually established such a ministry.
“You have to start somewhere,” “I don’t think peace is idealistic at all. It’s our natural state. When you find peace, you’re getting back to what you are. If you let thinking be run by your ego, you will live in a hellish world.”
To make a long story short, Sharon Stone heard about “Admissions,” watched it and contacted Viscount with a request to make a similar film about cyberbulling, in which she will play the lead role.
“When I saw this film, I realized it could become a series,” said the actress, who counts Israel’s former president, Shimon Peres, among her friends. “My idea was to create a parable that is easily understood by all ages. It’s clean, it’s inexpensive, and the characters can be changed out for different subjects. So I asked John if we could start with the topic of bullying. It’s not a subject just contained to young people. Adults bully the crap out of people too.”
That film, titled “The Principle,” will also be 20 minutes and will be the second in a trilogy that Stone, a convert to Tibetan Buddhism, calls a tribute to Viscount’s monk-like, selfless generosity.
“John is such a humble, incredibly beautiful man who has given his entire life to peace,” Stone gushed as Viscount, clearly uncomfortable with the limelight, smiled quietly. “Every TV script he writes is devoted to the betterment of the world.”
Despite the various controversies that have dogged Stone’s long Hollywood career — from the infamous leg-crossing scene in “Basic Instinct” to her particularly unfortunate 2008 comment suggesting that an earthquake which had devastated parts of China was “karma” for Beijing’s treatment of ethnic Tibetans — Stone says she’s now “up for grabs” as America’s peace ambassador.
“We’re doing this gigantic effort to get one billion signatures and create actual peace departments in countries around the globe. I’ve got to be on board with this,” she said. “Our own country doesn’t have a Department of Peace. How nuts is that when we have nothing but chaos all over the planet?”