PEMBROKE, ONTARIO – (The Daily Observer- Feb. 5, 2010) – By Stephen Uhler
Throughout his distinguished career as a peace mediator, Pembroke native Ben Hoffman has lived through situations which seem more the stuff of movies than of real life.
Now, one of these assignments will lead to him being depicted on the silver screen, with the possibility of an A-list actor playing his part.
The film, Girl Soldier, scheduled to start shooting in Africa this March, and starring Uma Thurman, focuses on the plight of child soldiers, particularly girls, who were kidnapped in Uganda by warlord Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Dr. Hoffman had a hair-raising face-to-face encounter with Mr. Kony deep in the African bush, including staring down the barrel of a gun, as he worked for former President Jimmy Carter to mediate the end to an ongoing civil war and secure the release of the children.
Dr. Hoffman’s role in this is to be included in the film version. Although not confirmed, rumour has it George Clooney will play a fictionalized version of Ben.
Speaking from his Cormac-area home, Dr. Hoffman said it has been an odd experience, since the film’s director called him last Easter to let him know of the decision to include him as a character in the film.
“It’s a bit mind blowing to get a call from Hollywood,” he said. “It is amazing someone from Pembroke who lives in the Ottawa Valley can have their life end up in a movie.”
He will have a chance to attend the premiere of the film, complete with the red carpet treatment, although the attention of everyone will likely not be on Dr. Hoffman, but on the man possibly portraying him.
“All of my female friends are quite interested in George Clooney,” he said, who lately is sporting a beard much like the one Dr. Hoffman wears.
“Still, he is grayer on top than I am.”
The road to Hollywood has been a convoluted one, and stems from the years 1999-2000, when Dr. Hoffman accepted the position of Director of the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Centre in Atlanta, Georgia.
As President Carter’s representative, Dr. Hoffman was engaged in efforts to bring an end to the 19-year civil war in Sudan, and to implement a peace agreement between Sudan and Uganda.
Dr. Hoffman recalls being interviewed four years ago by journalist Kathy Cook, who does articles on dramatic stories featuring feats of human survival. She was sent to Africa to follow up on the child soldier story, and caught wind of Ben’s involvement.
The end result was an award-winning magazine article which Ms. Cook turned into a book Stolen Angels. It is from this work Girl Soldier is being developed, within which Dr. Hoffman merits a chapter.
“It is not going to be a major character in the film,” he said, explaining his somewhat fictionalized role was included to provide some wider geopolitical context to the movie.
This doesn’t bother him, as he sees this as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the work many people are doing behind the scenes and at great personal risk for peace.
“I’m interested in getting the word out about the people who are working for peace,” he said, “and to put in people’s minds there is more going on than the fighting of wars.”
All these developments are happening just as Dr. Hoffman prepares to launch his own book Peace Guerilla, which details his ongoing peace building efforts and life-long mission to end violence. The book starts with his first dangerous international work in Mostar, a city within Bosnia and Herzegovina torn by the Balkan civil wars of the mid-1990s, ending with his work in West Africa.
His career has been a long one. While in the midst of operating his own business in Eganville from 1980 to 1986, he co-founded The Men’s Project, the first rural program in Canada for men who abuse women, and was named secretary of the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice, where he represented Canadian NGOs in UN efforts, focusing on large-scale victimization and justice in post-colonial societies.
In 1989, Dr. Hoffman founded Concorde Inc., which brings alternative dispute resolution services to the corporate and public sectors in Canada. He also co-founded, with Senator Douglas Roche and others, the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN) in 1990. This offers certificate training in conflict resolution and oversees peace building projects around the world.
Before his work with the Carter Centre, Dr. Hoffman worked closely with the Pearson Peacekeeping Training Centre.
He continues conflict mediation to this day, including work with the victims of sex abuse in Cornwall, the public inquiry which wrapped up last year.
These days Dr. Hoffman is involved with mediating two disputes in British Columbia; one involving First Nations peoples trying to get a settlement from the federal government for lost revenue involving a commercial fishery battle, while the other deals with trying to bring a wide range of groups together to help preserve the salmon fishery in the Skeena River watershed.
He has also stepped down from the Green Party, for which he was a candidate, to launch a new initiative called The Canada Expedition. Non-partisan, the group aims to develop a new model for the world economy which is sustainable, environmentally sound and maintains human dignity.
“We’re trying to showcase those in Canada who are able to do this as a test case to show the world it can be done,” he said, such as the Ottawa Valley Food Co-operative, which focuses on local food production and distribution.
It will work both to connect and encourage different groups across the country who have developed local economic and environmental innovations to share their knowledge, while also work on developing policies to introduce these concepts to world governments.
“Real change always takes place on the margins,” Dr. Hoffman said, rather than the establishment which has too much at stake maintaining the status quo.
Asked how did he ever find time to write a book, he said it is a matter of making the time. He has been encouraged for years to write down his experiences, but it was his wife Ann who really pushed him.
“This side of (peace mediation) has rarely gotten academic attention,” Dr. Hoffman said. “When your partner supports you, you can find the time.”
The book Peace Guerilla can be ordered through Amazon.ca,and will be ready for general release this month. Dr. Hoffman is hosting a small by-invitation-only book launch luncheon in Ottawa Feb. 15.
Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer reporter
Article ID# 2434138