The glitz and glimmer of Hollywood and the downtrodden villages of Uganda share one thing in common. While worlds apart, these two places have been blessed with the talents of Gerry Straub.
First a successful soap opera producer, Gerry Straub has transitioned from producing the overdramatic scenes of “General Hospital” to making documentaries portraying the harsh reality of the poor.
“Life is very real, very raw,” Straub said during his presentation Thursday, Nov. 15 in the Widener Lecture Hall. Striking images of flooded villages in Uganda accompanied by powerfully somber music left the room completely silent after watching a segment from one of his documentaries. The truth of Straub’s statement was quickly discovered.
Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Straub found his calling to leave Hollywood while sitting in an empty church in Italy. Straub flipped open the prayer book in front of him landing on Psalm 63, a soul searching for God and immediately “felt immersed in this sense of love.”
“Happiness isn’t measured by what you can acquire but what you can get rid of,” Straub said. He referred to himself “Brother BMW” in comparison to St. Francis’ “Brother Poverty.”
Yet in the first years of his foundation, The San Damiano Foundation, Straub lost everything, but was happy.
Straub is the founder and president of The San Damiano Foundation, whose mission is “to communicate through films the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.” The foundation produces films that bring about awareness of the poor, social justice and non-violence.
During his lecture, Straub showed various clips from his documentaries and shared stories of his time spent in Kenya, Uganda and Las Angeles just to name a few.
Mother Theresa once said the worst poverty she ever saw was in the United States. At first, Straub thought “what was she smoking?” After spending six months in LA he realized what she meant.
Over 1,100 homeless people live on the streets of LA right next door to wealth. These people lead lives of “isolation, deep pain and shame” whereas in third world countries Straub observed their nature to have a sense of community.
Two abandoned children lying naked in the dirt, shriveled skin and visible rib cages flashed on the screen. They wriggled around, unable to walk as a result of polio, screaming heart-wrenching screams of hunger.
Throughout the segment of the video nothing could be heard in the lecture hall except sniffling and crying from the audience. “The pictures say it all,” Straub said.
The images seen in Straub’s documentaries are haunting and thought-provoking. His hope is that after people watch his films they will be moved to a new awareness of mercy and compassion. “Our lives are so busy that we need time for stillness. We need to be still to figure out how to respond.”
According to Straub everyone can do something, even if it’s just as simple as offering a smile to a homeless person. Through interacting with the poorest of the poor and being able to help those in need, Straub has found his calling. “I found a new way to live and a new way to love.”