Avnet’s ‘Uprising’ tale timely

GOOD MORNING: The evil of Osama bin Laden and his terrorists is compa-rable to Adolf Hitler and his murderers, says Jon Avnet, director, co-writer and co-exec producer of “Uprising.” The two-part NBC mini (to air Nov. 4-5) will get a bigscreen, international WB feature release next year following a domestic, Dec. 18, WB Home Video (VHS and DVD) release. The film was shown in its feature (uninterrupted) length Monday night at the Academy to a packed house of 1,050. It ran two hours and 50 min-utes — with Avnet counting only four who went to the bathrooms during the screening. When he started this project eight years ago he admits never having dreamed “Uprising” would be “more relevant today than I had ever imagined.” When preparing this project, he admitted, “I could not understand that kind of evil. And now I see we are dealing with it again — pure evil — Osama bin Laden is doing the same thing. And we are going to be dealing with it more as he also battles for (space on) the airwaves” — as did Hitler with his propaganda machine on newsreels. It is one of the revelations in “Uprising,” which tells the amazing story of the Jewish resistance fighters within the inhuman horrors of the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. Avnet knows whereof he films — the research was aided by the American Jewish Committee, one of the hosts of Monday’s premiere. Avnet’s longtime attorney, Bruce Ramer, a past president of the AJC, was very helpful, Avnet tells me. Bill Haber, an exec producer and onetime CAAgent of Avnet’s, was also invaluable. “He was like a godfather. No matter where he was (on Save The Children business globally) he would be helpful.” And he also put up some of the $22 million budget. He compliments Rafaella De Laurentiis, who was “really the producer.” And he further says NBC’s Scott Sassa and WB toppers like Warren Lieberthal all came together on this mammoth project. Avnet filmed in 73 days in a four-storey high, 390-foot long set built in Slovakia to duplicate, to the inch, Warsaw in WWII. Why did Avnet decide to tackle this phase of history? Yes, he is Jewish, and yes, his father’s side of the family — from the border of Poland and Lithuania — all died in the German-built death camps as did the relatives on his mother’s side from the Ukraine. “How lucky I am to be the mes-senger for all those people who have no voice,” he told me . And moreso to tell the story never before done — to tell the resistance of these people. “They had no guns, no food — nothing — yet they were not passive. They tackled the giant German war machine(s). I hope journalists from herein will get rid of that word ‘passive’ about the Jewish resis-tance.” Avnet winged to N.Y. for tonight’s preem at the Beekman; co-stars David Schwimmer and Hank Azaria, who were at the Acad, will also attend. Leelee Sobieski, who was at the L.A. showing with her mom, returns to studies at Brown today.

AMONG THOSE PRAISING AVNET for making “Uprising” is Frank Pier-son, whose “Conspiracy” (HBO) is up for 10 Emmys. The Motion Picture Acad’s presi-dent will definitely be on hand for the TV Acad’s awards at the Shubert and told me he hopes the nominees of all the shows will also be on hand. “We all have to put our lives on course,” he emphasized, his views printed in a letter to Daily Variety. Starting Monday, he noted, all those entering/working the Highland-Hollywood complex of Kodak Theater, ballroom, etc. will have to wear a neckband/badge. The security will also be reviewed. He visited the Kodak again this week and says all that’s left to do “is take the plastic covering off the seats.” Meanwhile, Pierson is also going ahead full steam on “Complicity,” the follow-up to “Conspiracy.” It’s also for HBO. He says a lot of new classified WWII-era material has become available. “Historians have been researching and finding incredible material. We hope to start filming this winter.” Pierson’s “Conspiracy,” like Avnet’s “Uprising,” was eight years in the making. “Complicity” is moving much faster. It is the story of the complicity between U.S. and Great Britain to not admit Jewish refugees while outwardly mollifying public opinion. The lead charac-ters are FDR, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Sumner Welles, Henry Morgenthau Jr., etc. Their historic meeting will be shown in the TV’er as another day of infamy … Filmmakers Pierson and Avnet continue to give Hollywood evidence of Jack Warner’s wartime credo: “Combine good citizenship with good picture-making.”

TO EVERY THING THERE IS A SEASON: Merv Griffin’s sister, Barbara (Mrs. William) Eyre died Monday in Santa Clara. Merv used to tell how the two of them, as children, sitting in the back seat of their parents’ car, played the brain teaser game that became — “Wheel of Fortune,” in which she shared the royalties as well. Merv will, of course, be at the funeral Friday and then must wing back for the evening’s tribute he receives from the Young Musicians’ Foundation, which he has constantly supported. Same evening, Eyre’s son Michael, in charge of Merv Griffin Prods., and Kim Colby will be partied as they will wed on Sunday. The couple was introduced to each other — by their children — The AFI and Cinematheque team tonight to preem Irwin Winkler’s “Life as a House” at the Egyptian.

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