Director Michael Wadleigh, sometimes spelled Wadley, is best known for his classic Oscar-winning documentary about the 1969 Woodstock music festival. Wadleigh spoke at the American University in Cairo’s new campus on Sunday about his current work with the Homo Sapiens Report, an organization working with UNESCO to promote sustainable development.
The Homo Sapiens Report is a three-hour presentation authored by Wadleigh about sustainable development, which meanders through a broad spectrum of issues: population growth, use of limited resources, business, politics and science.
He used the NASA Astronauts as an analogy for his presentation, demonstrating how they managed to survive with limited resources for long periods of time. His suggestion was that humans should treat the earth as astronauts treat space station — by thinking carefully about how humans use the earth’s resources.
The presentation slides were done in a psychedelic style, using rainbow colors, cut and pasted graphics and fine print that made it difficult to read. With little discernable order, he jumped from one topic to the next, always coming back to a picture of an astronaut playing a guitar. His presentation also included a picture of Jimi Hendrix playing a guitar, saying: “Jimi didn’t care about the product [the guitar], he cared about the music, man.”
On other topics he tried to impress upon his audience that “Money isn’t worth anything” because it is the resources that are the most precious. He blamed advertising for consumerism and told the audience that poor black women will buy Jimmy Choo shoes and “take milk from their babies mouths” because they see Michelle Obama wearing the same expensive shoes.
US President Barack Obama was mentioned multiple times in his speech, as was Apple CEO Steve Jobs, using their images to represent the pull between politics and business. He claimed to know both of them but did not elaborate on why this affiliation was relevant for this presentation or explain exactly what his relationship is with them.
Wadleigh also spoke of the importance of people revolting because the distribution of wealth in the world is so unbalanced, alluding to the fact that he had been part of “lots” of revolutions but did not elaborate. Speaking about the events in Tahrir Square, he said he “wishes he could have been there” but couldn’t get there because of meetings he had to attend.
At this point Wadleigh responded to an audience beginning to shift uncomfortably in their seats and retorted, “I’m not sorry this is taking so long, this is the only place you are going to see this information all put together.”
To conclude his presentation, he related his message to Egypt, showing pictures of Egypt’s arable land and its desert. His photographs show what little farming land Egypt has in compared with its desert and urged the audience to consider wisely how it uses it.
Overall, Wadleigh’s message was that economic development should be considered carefully. When asked to offer a solution, his response was, “That’s up to you guys.” He then invited everyone to come up and take their picture with his Oscar statue, which he won in 1971.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a professor at AUC who watched Wadleigh’s presentation expressed disappointment at the presentation, saying that while Wadleigh said science could offer solutions and advised people to listen to scientists, “he didn’t actually say what those solutions are.”
Ihab El Sokary, a business major at AUC, also commented on the presentation, saying, “His ideas were not clear and he did not offer any clear solutions for people to follow.”
Wadleigh mentioned multiple times that he works with UNESCO and that The Homo Sapien Report, www.hsfound.org, is a UNESCO project.
UNESCO was unable to confirm Wadleigh’s affiliation with their organization and expressed concern about his use of their logo on his website. The best explanation that UNESCO could come up with is that they think he might have spoken at a conference in 2009 and someone from UNESCO gave him some advice.
Jerry Leach of AUC, the man responsible for Wadleigh’s invitation to speak, was unavailable for comment.