The project founder
Bernard Weber has had a varied career as a filmmaker, museum curator, aviator, and explorer. Fluent in five languages, the Swiss-born Canadian Weber has spent most of his life traveling the world for film projects and later for New7Wonders and so experiencing the rare sense of adventure and inspiration that comes from meeting different cultures.
“I come from a small country at the centre of the European continent where one is practically forced to cross borders to travel. As soon as I was old enough to explore the world, I discovered that travel is one of the great enrichments in life: it is not a ‘disappearance’, a way of escaping our usual life and work routines; it is a great adventure that allows one to see the extraordinary beauty of the earth and the grandeur of human accomplishment. Aviation has enabled people to experience, within a space of several years, what would have taken 500 years to experience in the past when transport was so much slower and often impossible.”
It is precisely such a global perspective that led Weber to embark upon The Official New 7 Wonders of the World project. “The renowned Ancient Wonders belong to antiquity and, with the exception of the Pyramids, none remains in existence. There has never been any true public consensus of opinion on the last 2000 years of human achievement. The beginning of the new millennium is a poignant historical moment for determining The Official New 7 Wonders of the World. The internet is perhaps the only democratic means of distributing information around the world since it is free to everyone who has access to a computer and telephone network. That is why we are urging the world’s population to participate in this free vote which pays tribute to our collective global cultural heritage.”
Weber’s project opened with him making a spectacular water landing with an amphibian aircraft in Sydney Harbour on 15th September 2000, a week prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. This event was aired by television stations all over the world, such as CNN and Channel 9.
The Film Maker
After attending New York University Film School, Bernard Weber moved to Rome in 1974 where he worked as an assistant to legendary director Federico Fellini. Weber then went on to direct his first feature film, Hotel Locarno, in 1979, which earned several international awards for best direction and best film. Upon completing a tour of the world’s leading film festivals, Weber decided to relocate to Montreal, Canada, where he developed several TV-movie projects and also directed his second feature film, the romantic comedy Cheeeese starring Vincent Gardenia and Senta Berger.
Weber’s life long fascination for flying had its origins in his childhood when his grandmother took him along to an airfield and sat him in the cockpit of an aeroplane where Weber pretended to fly. He began to put his dream into action after moving to Canada and meeting an elderly gentleman in New York.
“I was in a warehouse when I noticed the man staring at a pin, shaped like a vintage aircraft, which I wore on my jacket. He asked me whether I knew which aircraft it was. I said I had no idea and he replied that he had bought such an aircraft from Howard Hughes and would like to show it to me if I were interested.”
“In the following month he took me flying in his aeroplane – a Spartan Executive – and we became friends. A year later he sent me a catalogue from an English auction house which was offering various vintage aircraft for auction. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the low prices. I bought two aircraft, one of which was in pieces, for less than a new Volkswagen.”
By this time Weber, with several hundred flying hours behind him which he had clocked up in regular modern aircraft, had lost his enthusiasm for flying. This changed the moment he piloted the Broussard, one of the two post war aircraft (WWII) which he owns. “When you fly a vintage aircraft you hear the engine noise, smell the oil and fuel, and feel that you are flying the plane and not the other way around. Of course a jet flies very fast and is very comfortable. However, you are 10,000 meters above the earth and could just as well be sitting in your living room”.
Weber’s transportation aircraft once belonged to the Royal Moroccan Airforce and flew mostly over north Africa. It reminded him of the adventure of Antoine de St.-Exupéry, the aviation pioneer and author of the legendary novel “The Little Prince”.
“I was a great admirer of ‘The Little Prince’ and St.-Exupéry and wanted to pose a tribute to him by flying his identical route whilst he was pilot for the French Postal Service traveling down the West African coastline. I landed in almost the exact same place in the desert where he had to make an emergency landing.”
Weber regretted following St.-Exupéry’s experience so exactly as his Broussard got stuck in the sand and he was forced to rent two camels “in mating season” from the desert people to pull his plane out of the dunes. “You will never understand what absurdity means until you have seen two giant camels attempt to mate whilst supposedly pulling an aircraft out of the sand in the middle of a desert – and the weird sounds they made. I’m sure St.-Exupéry never met any camels during mating season or otherwise The Little Prince would have had a completely different view on life,” laughs Weber.
“The flight over Morocco allowed me a new understanding of St.-Exupéry’s words. I believe I finally understood what The Little Prince saw. He witnessed pure life which we no longer have time to appreciate.” Weber sought to combine his twin passions, film and aviation, by embarking on a series of what he describes as “poetic adventure films.”
The first in this series, the 1995 TV-documentary, The Desert Prince, was conceived as a tribute to the pioneering French aviator Antoine de St.-Exupéry. The Desert Prince was subsequently broadcast on TV5, ARTE, and Canadian television.
The Desert Prince by Bernard Weber (ISBN 3765811955). Published in German, French, Italian and English. Foreign rights are available.
The White Leopard by Bernard Weber (ISBN 3765812358). Published in German and English. Foreign rights are available.
The next film in the series, a 70 year anniversary tribute and sponsored by Swissair, The White Leopard – On the Tracks of Ernest Hemingway (1999), was dedicated to the centennial of Hemingway’s birth and served as a fictional account of a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya between Hemingway and two other legendary figures of this century: Walter Mittelholzer, the Swiss aviation pioneer and founder of Swissair, and Baron Louis von Rothschild, the last of the Austrian Rothschilds. The story revolved around the myth of a white leopard that Hemingway described in the Preface to his famous novel, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”Even today, a flight over Kilimanjaro, which is about 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) high, is a dangerous undertaking for a small aircraft,” reports Weber. “The best time to fly over the summit is the early morning when the air is still cold and dense as this allows the aircraft to fly higher than it would be possible in warmer, lighter air. It is a constant struggle to get the aircraft to go higher and it is a relief to finally have passed the summit.”
Weber documented his flights over Africa with his camera. He shot thousands of pictures for his books The Desert Prince and The White Leopard showing the experiences of his adventure.
Bernard Weber blogs on bernardweber.com