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You are here: Home / Trailer of the Week: Farewell to a Giant

Trailer of the Week: Farewell to a Giant

Cinema for Peace Honorary Board Member Sir Christopher Lee Dies

in memoriam by Jaka Bizilj

The Invincible has surrendered ...

Wounded in WW II with shrapnel’s in his body, plagued by back injuries and heart problems, we were worrying for Christopher Lee ever since I have met him for the first time in 1995 when we celebrated a centennial of cinema, which he had influenced so much himself. This titan of cinematic expression with nearly 300 credits in the Guinness Book of Records was always very much aware of his own mortality. Whenever we planned something he always added with his incredible dark voice: "If I am still alive by than!" This became kind of a running gag. Same as my answer, that of course he is immortal. He had successfully survived every possible death threat off- and on-screen by war enemies, dreadful villains and every monster you can imagine on earth and beyond, he even outlived Gandalf and Darth Vader! Dying was absolutely no option in our plans.

No matter what pain he had to endure, he was always there when needed. He even came in a wheelchair to our Cinema for Peace Gala in Berlin this year, what was probably his last public appearance in his life. How important this mission to help other human beings was to him you could tell when he excused himself at the BAFTA's in London, where he was asked to hold a laudation speech for Martin Scorsese, who had shot 'Hugo' with him, because he was already committed to speak at Cinema for Peace for the children of Syria.

Nearly everybody who meant something in this business had worked at some point of the century with Sir Christopher Lee - from John Huston to Laurence Olivier, from Errol Flynn to Orson Welles, from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas - special powers were always with him. In his 80ties he fought sword fights with master Yoda and became the biggest grossing actor of our time through significant roles in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. By box-office accounting he might be the most successful actor of all time. The group of admirers reached from Bob Geldof to Angelina Jolie, from Johnny Depp to Richard Burton, who worked with him on films like Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland.

When I asked Angelina who she would feel mostly honored to receive a laudation speech from at the Cinema for Peace Gala her wish was Sir Christopher Lee - who was very happy to remind with her Bosnian film about the world's responsibility to stop wars and genocide.

I was a young intern at the film department of German public television ZDF during my university time. When Jürgen Labenski fell sick I found myself in the unfortunate situation to organize in his place the celebration of "100 Years of Cinema" and welcome the Honorary Gala guests. As an intern I was standing in the entrance hall of the Grand Kurhaus greeting "the man with the golden gun" and legend of the Hammer-era with a reference to count Dracula. He gave me a look like count Dracula himself that made my blood freeze. I made sure that for the next 20 years I never referred to a vampire in his presence again.

He was not intimidating, but had an authority you do not find anymore today. His authority came with his presence, charm, voice and first of all his knowledge. At a press conference he was asked if he did some sightseeing and for 15 minutes he explained how Berlin transformed after WW II until modern times, in Slovenia he explained the history of Yugoslavia, how he met Tito during the war and that he was there in special war mission. He always knew more than we did, and if he was in a good mood he took pleasure to drink a small glass of Linie Aquavit and recite Wagner’s Ring - he knew 12 hours of text by heart.

In an age where many celebrities only answer emails if they seek an advantage - to win an award, collect funds and meet or shine with bigger celebrities than themselves - and publicists often try to keep their clients away from humanitarian commitments, Sir Christopher Lee was an outstanding example of humanity. Whenever I asked him to do something for Cinema for Peace he did. Actually I stopped asking him too often in order not to take advantage of his unwavering commitment to human rights and justice.

On holidays at the lake Woerther and in Heiligendamm we had long conversations, where I could feel his love for his wife Gitte, his daughter Christina and his concern for children. When I introduced him to UNICEF it was his immediate decision to become an ambassador and the first mission brought him to my native country Slovenia.

At some point we just stopped worrying about his health. We pretended them only when urging the royal offices to make him finally a knight, referring to his age and saying that the honor can not wait any longer for health reasons. In our trailer of the week you can feel his joy and pride when the day came and he became Sir Christopher. At this time we were convinced he would turn at least 100 and keep doing seven films a year, on IMDB there was still a long list of projects.

It was only this year when we started to worry again about Sir Christopher. He was to weak to come on a stage anymore. He announced in Berlin the Nelson Mandela award from his wheelchair. I had to bring him his traditional Schnitzel, which he enjoyed every year on the day after the gala at the Borchradt’s restaurant, for the first time to his hotel suite. When Gitte invited us to drink an Linie Aquavit I got a sense that this could be our last drink together. When I travelled to London a few weeks ago I had a feeling of urgency to visit Christopher and say goodbye. We chatted on Thursday on the phone and he invited me to come to his home the next day after landing in London. But it was too late, something had happened that night, Gitte informed us that he had to go to hospital, where he died after a few weeks last Sunday.

I remember a lot of inspiration and very well his first speech at Cinema for Peace Berlin 2002, when he read a letter by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler, as well as his last speech at Cinema for Peace Berlin 2014 for the children of Syria, which we will remember as a legacy of one of the greatest humans of our time:

"When ‘Cinema for Peace’ introduced me to UNICEF 10 years ago I found that a wonderful way to really make the inaudible cries of children heard. Many of you gathered here tonight have the capacity to move the minds and hearts of people. This is why I want to ask you to share the following message with your audiences wherever you can. It is a letter from Heba, a 17 year old girl from Syria:

'My name is Heba. I’m 17 years old. (..) I ask you don`t you feel our pain? Syria is calling for help! What happened to your feelings, can`t you see us on your television screens, don`t you want to help us? We just want our dreams to became true. I want my dream to became true. I want to build the Syria of the future.  I want peace to come back to my country, and I want all Syrians to be reunited. I hope that my dream will come true.'”

Ai Weiwei for Cinema for Peace

Ai Weiwei's 'Safe Passage' installation with life-vests from Lesbos for Cinema for Peace.


Upcoming Screenings:


August 13th 2018, at the Schikaneder Kino in Vienna / Address: Margaretenstraße 24, A - 1040 Wien