There was a message in the drumbeats. The final moments of the first international Pangea Day event on Saturday were big on symbolism, as seven drummers of varied cultures were linked via satellite from Stage 15 at Sony Studios to an international drum circle scattered across the planet.
There were drummers from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere, all beating as one during a worldwide broadcast designed to encourage peace and understanding. Pangea Day was a four-hour program of short films, live music and brief messages of hope, humor and sadness, named for the prehistoric super-continent.
"By sharing stories, we have begun the process of turning strangers into friends," filmmaker Jehane Noujaim told the U.S. studio audience in Culver City on the same soundstage where Dorothy and Toto once danced down the Yellow Brick Road. Noujaim had conceived of the idea of a multinational film festival broadcast, and it was supported through a prize from the annual TED Conference, a gathering of creative thinkers in science and culture.
The emphasis was on storytelling. The first film, "The Ball" from Mozambique, was a lighthearted short piece about African children building a soccer ball out of an inflated condom and yarn, while making a subtle message about sexually transmitted disease. It was followed by a film from Los Angeles, "A Thousand Words" by Ted Chung, which suggested the power of snapshots discovered on a found digital camera. Other films offered vivid scenes of sadness and contemplation, of joy and tragedy: a lonely French woman on the Metro, children at a Chad refugee camp. In "Walleyball" by Brent Hoff, Mexicans and Americans played an international game of volleyball by using the border fence as a net.
Sitting in the Culver City audience was film producer Lawrence Bender, whose "An Inconvenient Truth" had its own global reach.
"It sounds a little airy-fairy, but the world is such a tough place right now," said Bender, a TED Conference regular and a Pangea Day advisor. "We kind of need something like this event."
The program was broadcast in seven languages. The live audience at Sony was about 1,200, joining crowds of 2,000 each in London, Rio de Janeiro, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Mumbai, India, and Kigali, Rwanda, with smaller gatherings in other cities. At Sony, there were big video screens and a news ticker that listed a roll call of the cities and small towns participating (Each of the films and a one-hour highlight show was put up on the web at pangeaday.org right after the broadcast.)
Actress and Pangea presenter Cameron Diaz, in her dressing room after presenting an animated, environmentally themed short, said she hoped the event's message would spread.
"Hopefully, all the people watching from different locations will see how they're connected," she said. "We're not separate. There's nothing that happens on this planet that doesn't affect all of us. Our choices every day will affect somebody on the other side of the world."
A communal feeling was the goal. In Los Angeles, hosts asked audience members to shake the hand of the person next to them. Among the presenters was Queen Noor of Jordan, who said, "We must learn from each other's stories."
Among the most surprising and uplifting films was about the "laughter clubs" of India, headed by Dr. Madan Kataria, who hopes to establish 1 million of these clubs across the world. On Saturday, he and actress Goldie Hawn led the audience in several moments of roaring laughter across the planet. "When you laugh, you change," Kataria told the crowd. "And when you change, the whole world changes around you."
The central focus of the broadcast was the power of film to communicate beyond borders and misunderstanding, but live music also played a meaningful role.
In Brazil, musician and activist Gilberto Gil stood alone with a guitar, as many on Stage 15 and elsewhere clapped and sang along. Rokia Traore of Mali performed her gentle, lilting vocals from London, accompanied by cascading harp melodies.
At Sony, there was the modern riff-rock of Hypernova, a Los Angeles-based act of Iranian rockers. And later, Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart led a large band through a pair of songs. He was joined by hip-hop singer Nadirah X, whose urgent words of dissatisfaction were set against Stewart's guitar and a string section.
When it was finally over, Noujaim looked ecstatic and a little drained as she hugged friends and collaborators. TED curator and key Pangea organizer Chris Anderson admitted to tears as he watched the worldwide drum circle. World peace was still out of reach, but they expected to be back with another Pangea Day in two more years.