The new documentary, The Philosopher Kings, looks at the lives of a eight custodians who work at several universities, including Cornell, Princeton, Duke, and Cal Tech. “The idea was to seek wisdom from those we consider to be on the fringes of society and to point out that intelligence is not exclusive to classrooms, professors, or those we normally attribute to be the wise people in our culture,” said director and co-producer Patrick Shen. “We set out to tell their stories, to bring humanity and dignity to people we don’t normally see.”
The two custodians in the film from Cornell, Jim Evener and Gary Napieracz, are close friends and also are Vietnam veterans. Both come off very well in the film. “They asked me what was the most important or dramatic part of my life, and I said, ‘My parents dying . . . and Vietnam,’” Napieracz told the Cornell University Alumni magazine. “We started talking about the war and I said, ‘Let me tell you, I’m not the perfect person to be interviewed about Vietnam. I have a good friend who’s a hero in my eyes.’”
That would be Evener, who has a prominent role in the film, talking about his life, including his Army service in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded on a resupply mission. “It was like somebody poked you with a punch, between that and an electric shock,” Evener said. “I didn’t go flying over any logs or through the air like you see on TV.” Evener wound up crawling through the jungle for three days before he was rescued.
The film had its debut in June at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland, and has been on the documentary circuit in festivals, at churches, museums and universities since then here, in Canada and in England. It’s also available on DVD. You can see a trailer at the Cornell U. Alumni magazine page or find out more and order a copy at the film’s website.