Filmmaker spreads message of peace to students (4/30/09)

April 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston seventh and eighth graders were encouraged to strive for world peace on Monday, with a presentation by British documentary filmmaker and peace activist Jeremy Gilley.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
British documentary filmmaker Jeremy Gilley talks to Williston Central School students about Peace One Day and how they can involve themselves locally and globally. Gilley visited the school Monday.

Gilley, who founded the internationally recognized Peace One Day, came to Williston to kick off a new project that looks to educate American students about peace and becoming better global citizens.

“If we’re going to live a united and sustainable world, it’s because of the work of young people like you,” Gilley told Williston Central School students during an hour-long assembly.

Peace One Day is celebrated the world over on Sept. 21.

Gilley, who visited Williston two years ago to talk about Peace One Day, said his new program — Peace One Day Education Resource — has already been a success in schools in the United Kingdom. The program gives schools a packet of 17 lesson plans, as well as a DVD of the feature length film “The Day After Peace.”

During the assembly, Gilley presented a clip of the film, which chronicles his efforts to raise awareness of an international peace day and spread the word throughout the planet. The film follows Gilley around the world as he interviews world leaders, global citizens and famous actors and musicians on his quest. Actors including Angelina Jolie and Jude Law are featured, as are musicians Lenny Kravitz and Sir Paul McCartney.

Gilley was also in the process of creating another film about his experiences, bringing a documentary film crew with him during the Williston kickoff event.

He said Williston was his first stop before moving on to New Hampshire and Maine. He’s launching the first phase of the education resource in New England, with 4,000 schools receiving packets.

“This makes them aware of what they can do to help,” Gilley explained.

To help fund Gilley’s work, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stepped in to cover the cost of the education resource packets. Sean Greenwood, the company’s public relations director, said Peace One Day fits right in with Ben & Jerry’s social activism cause.

“These are the tools that give kids the abilities to make a difference,” Greenwood said.

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s and a Williston resident, said he was “astonished” at Gilley’s work over the past 10 years.

“He’s one of those really amazing people that believes in his heart that people can make a difference,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield provided ice cream for a picnic after the presentation, and also introduced Gilley to the students.

Gilley, a trained actor who was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, found his life’s calling in working to eradicate war and violence on the planet. He knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“I wanted to make a difference,” Gilley said. “I wanted to change the world, but I didn’t know where to start.”

Using his past film experience, Gilley set out to rally the world to his cause in 1998. In 2001, the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing Peace One Day every Sept. 21.

“It’ll grow, it’ll really grow if you get behind it,” Gilley said while talking to the camera in “The Day After Peace.”

According to Gilley, Peace One Day has been a success, with actual ceasefires occurring and aid workers being able to deliver medicine and other goods while fighting stopped.

Gilley spent time with students answering questions about the film and brainstorming ways to spread the word about the day. Ideas included everything from being kind to fellow students to becoming pen pals with people in other countries.

Eighth grader Davis Mikell said he was interested in spreading the word about Peace One Day and what could be done.

“It made me aware of what I can do to help,” Mikell said.

Student Kari Lavalette also said she was keen to do something special for Peace One Day and make people aware of its existence.

“I was surprised that not as many people know anything about it,” Lavalette said.

Gilley said youth enthusiasm from all over the world is what drives Peace One Day to be a success.

“If everyone is celebrating Peace One Day around the world, we’ll have terrific change,” he said.