I first met Saul Landau in 1973 when he brought a film crew to Washington, D.C. to make a documentary on the “Watergate Congress.” He asked me to do an interview for the show, and since I was an obscure freshman Senator, I readily agreed. It was from that time on that we became fast friends. Our families intermingled, and his daughter, Carmen, and my granddaughter, Corrine, sort of grew up together in the same neighborhood in that leafy white ghetto we lived in called Northwest Washington, D.C.
I had not expected all that came after that. We traveled together to Cuba where Saul introduced me to Fidel Castro; we went to Wounded Knee together after the militant Indian takeover and where Saul made a film centered on the Indian Committee hearings I held to document the AIM takeover of Wounded Knee. In 2003, he went to Syria without me, but my Syrian wife, Sanaa, was there visiting her family at the time, so he drafted her as his guide and narrator as he filmed around Syria. He filmed the small village of Maaloulla, where the inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus of Nazareth, and which was recently attacked and sacked by Barack Obama’s allies, Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate that is killing everyone in sight while trying to take over the current Syrian government.
When, in 2002, I decided to go to Iraq to try to prevent George Bush’s invasion of that country, Saul brought his film crew and his camera along to document our efforts. He filmed Tareq Aziz, Saddam’s number two, telling us that he feared the US would send more spies along with the weapons inspectors as they had before. He finally agreed to allow the inspectors in, but it was, as we now know, to no avail. Saul reminded me that it was Bill Clinton, not Saddam Hussein, who kicked out the weapons inspectors in 1998. enabling him to bomb Iraq at that time. He also reminded the world, in an article he had written, that even the media had forgotten who had taken the inspectors out of Iraq, as most of the media were saying that it was the dictator Hussein who had done so.
Saul’s last film, Will The Real Terrorist Please Stand Up? was a final effort on Saul’s part to bring some sort of justice to the Cuba people, who had been denied justice since 1959. As we’ve all learned, over and over again, when politicians are out to make a point, there can be no such thing as justice.
It’s difficult for me to describe how much I’ve learned from Saul, and how much he has taught the rest of the world, but his death leaves a huge void in the education of all of us.
I am not one who believes organized religion or in spirituality, but I’m unable to explain what caused me to wake up out of a sound sleep on the night Saul died, staying awake the rest of the night. When Carmen called me the next morning to tell me of his death during the night, I recited to her through my tears the words of a Ralph Stanley bluegrass song, the words of Angels’ Band.
I’ve tried to resist making the connection, but it may be possible that the Spirit of my longtime friend and my brother, Saul Landau, briefly stopped in South Dakota that night to wake me to tell me one final goodbye.
A list of Saul’s forty films can be found here.
JAMES ABOUREZK is a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota. He is the author of Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate, a memoir now available only on Amazon’s Kindle. His e mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org