Goldcrest won back-to-back Best Picture awards when its next film, Gandhi, was released in 1982 and picked up eight Oscars. Directed by Richard Attenborough, and starring the largely unknown actor Ben Kingsley, Gandhi is a biopic of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the London-trained lawyer who fomented a non-violent nationalist movement that led to independence from British imperial rule in 1947 and the partition of India and Pakistan.
A perpetual lone wolf, Eberts walked away from Goldcrest in December, 1983, because the firm was crawling with suits, bogged down with meetings and keen to diversify into television. He joined Embassy Pictures in 1984, but returned about 18 months later to try to save the company following a disastrous series of investments in mega-budget, box-office failures, including Revolution, The Mission and Absolute Beginners. It didn’t work, as he and Ilott explain with fascinating candour and scrupulous detail in My Indecision.
Meanwhile he had formed Allied Filmmakers, which was linked to Pathe Films, and began working on a panoply of award-winning films including Driving Miss Daisy, starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, which won four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actress. Australian director Bruce Beresford said in an e-mail message that the film “had been rejected by production groups all over the world” and wouldn’t have been made without Eberts’s investment.
Eberts also worked with Kevin Costner on Dances with Wolves (seven Oscars including Best Picture) and Robert Redford on A River Runs Through It, and soon became a member of the board of the Sundance Institute. As the appetite for his kind of story based on naturalistic films waned, the multi-tasking Eberts, renowned for his incessant thumb-typing on his BlackBerry and his ability to juggle several projects simultaneously, returned to his cinematic origins with animated films (including James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run) and a new medium for him – documentaries.
As chair of National Geographic Films, he distributed March of the Penguins. With English narration by Morgan Freeman, the film won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2006 and a slew of other awards.
He also began making documentaries with the Canadian invented and pioneered IMAX technology. Journey to Mecca (narrated by Ben Kingsley) is a film about Ibn Battuta, the 14th-century Moroccan who made a pilgrimage from his home in Tangier to Mecca and later dictated his reminiscences in a famous travel book called The Rihla. That led to Jerusalem, another IMAX film that follows three teenagers, a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian, over the course of a day in the city which is home to three of the world’s primary religions. That film is set for release in 2013.
And then Eberts, a man who was athletic, abstemious and in touch with his own spirituality, fell ill. What appeared to be a detached retina in November, 2010, turned out to be a very rare melanoma of the eye. Despite aggressive treatment, the cancer metastasized to his liver. His wife cared for him at home until his failing systems precipitated his transfer to palliative care at the Jewish General Hospital four days before he died on Sept. 6, 2012, surrounded by family. He was 71.
“It is really, really hard, but I had 44 great years and I can’t be greedy,” she said. ‘He had a wonderful life well lived … and there wasn’t anything left unsaid or undone.”
Or as his friend Paul Desmarais Jr., co-chief executive officer of Power Corporation, suggested at a private reception following the memorial service, Eberts was not only an example of how to live, but how to prepare for death.
Jake Eberts leaves his wife, Fiona, his two sons, Alexander and David, daughter Lyndsay, five siblings and his extended family.