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Wrap-up of the Week's Stories

Aired June 29, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program. This week we covered two particularly memorable stories, one of a life well lived, the other a tale of survival after a harrowing ordeal on the high seas.

My friend, Nora Ephron, died this week, much too soon, at 71 of complications from leukemia. Nora was a brilliant success at everything that she undertook, as a journalist, a writer and a movie director, and also a playwright.

I shared memories of Nora's wonderful life with her great friend, Rita Wilson, the actress who starred in Nora's off-Broadway play, "Love, Loss and What I Wore," and who, along with her husband, Tom Hanks, appeared in Ephron's signature film, "Sleepless in Seattle."

But first, an incredible story of piracy and survival.

Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizarri were captured by Somali pirates off the coast of Tanzania. They were held hostage for 20 months as the pirates demanded a huge ransom.

The couple was finally set free last week after intense efforts by their family as well as by the South African, Italian and Somali governments. And I spoke with them from Pretoria, South Africa, for their first interview since being set free.


AMANPOUR: Debbie and Bruno, it's wonderful to see you; it's great to have you out of captivity. I just want to ask you, though, Debbie, to take me back to that dreadful day 20 months ago. What was it like when the Somali pirates stormed your ship?

DEBORAH CALITZ, PIRATE HOSTAGE: It felt like it was a dream. It wasn't real and I could see there was more fear in their eyes than we had. And I was afraid they were going to panic.


CALITZ: Yes, surreal.

AMANPOUR: When you say you were --

PELIZARRI: I'd just been on night shift.

AMANPOUR: Sorry, go ahead. Go ahead, Bruno.

PELIZARRI: I'd just finished the night shift. So I was asleep when Debbie woke me up, telling me, there's a boarding party arriving. And the next thing she said, "It's pirates." What do you do? What do you say?

AMANPOUR: What did you say? What did you do?

PELIZARRI: Put a pair of jeans on and went on deck to face them, of course.

CALITZ: And we tried to calm them down, because if they panic, they can shoot. So we told them, don't worry, everything's fine. We're sitting down. Just relax. You'll be OK. We're not going to fight you. But we have to stop the boat.

AMANPOUR: Must have been terrifying.

CALITZ: It happened so fast, so quickly, there was no time to be scared. We just had to get off and just go with them.

AMANPOUR: So what happened then? You were there for 20 months. What were the conditions of your confinement for 20 months?

CALITZ: Terrible.

PELIZARRI: Can you imagine being put into a cell worse than a prison I can think of, darkness, with a tin for ablutions, with no form of --

CALITZ: They were filthy. The places were filthy we were put in. Sometimes we had to sleep on the floor. Sometimes we had a mattress. They treated us -- they wouldn't touch our bowls. We were treated like untouchables. And we were humiliated. We were degraded. They did everything they could. They psychologically tortured us.

AMANPOUR: In what way?

PELIZARRI: You had these threats hanging over your head all the time.

CALITZ: They would come in early hours of the morning and shine a torch, a light in our face. They wouldn't say a word. They would just stare at us. We asked them, what? What do you want? And they'd just look at us. Then they'd walk out. And then they'd come at 6:00 and they'd bang outside the door. And then they'd cock their rifles.

And we don't -- we didn't know if they were going to kill us. They wouldn't tell us anything about what was going on. They told we were lying all the time. We wanted money. They wanted money. If they didn't have money, they would kill us. So cold.

AMANPOUR: In the meantime --

CALITZ: We didn't know from one day to the next, yes.

AMANPOUR: And in the meantime, Bruno, your sister, Vera, was in touch with them quite regularly, sometimes once a week. We have a little bit of audiotape of some of her conversation. Let's just listen for a little bit.


PELIZARRI: What do we want from our government? We demand our -- we demand our freedom.

VERA: You demand your freedom from the government? Bruns, the government doesn't pay. And I'm trying to collect money for your freedom.

PELIZARRI: Vera? Vera?

VERA: Oh, my God.


AMANPOUR: So, Bruno, that was Vera talking to you, in fact, during negotiations. What was it -- what's it like for you now to hear that played back?

PELIZARRI: Quite heartrending.

CALITZ: (Inaudible).

PELIZARRI: Yes. And get on to the -- get on to the questions said by them. It's so upsetting. You've got so many things to say and you can't.

AMANPOUR: It must be amazing to know how your family was so involved and so, you know, stuck to it for all these months, trying to get you out.

CALITZ: They didn't give up.

PELIZARRI: At least it gave us hope, that there was people out there, that there had been contact.

AMANPOUR: Did you know --

CALITZ: We knew nothing. They kept us in the dark.

AMANPOUR: Yes, you just said you knew nothing. I was going to say did you know that the kidnappers were asking Vera for, you know, $10 million?


CALITZ: We weren't sure how much exactly. And we weren't sure whether -- how often the communication was happening. We thought every two months there was a bit of communication going on. That's all we thought. That's all we knew.

PELIZARRI: Yes, outside they were asking for $24 million, $8 million, $10 million, just so we told them, we're no celebrities. We are just workers, just normal citizens.

AMANPOUR: I know the -- all the governments involved --

PELIZARRI: They've got the wrong people.

AMANPOUR: All the governments involved, the South African government, the Italian government, your Parli Italian, Bruno, the Somali government, refused to talk about ransoms. Do you think a ransom was paid?

CALITZ: We don't know. We're not sure. All we know was that it was a coordinated rescue between the Somali government and the Italians. And the Italian people were wonderful. They looked after us so well. They put us up in a place and they kept us feeling safe, all the way. They were really, really good to us.

AMANPOUR: Well, what was the rescue? Did they storm the place? Were you handed over? How did that happen?

CALITZ: It was very quiet. We weren't sure right up until the time that -- we didn't believe it, because they had lied to us so many times before that.

PELIZARRI: Three times they told us we were leaving for South Africa.

CALITZ: Yes, they would drive us for 12 hours, from one place to another. We'd stay there for a few days, maybe a week, maybe just one day. And then they'd take us back again, throw us back in the room again and not tell us anything. So we didn't believe them. And we had -- we had decided, we're not going to believe them until we actually see the plane.

So that when we were rescued, we heard -- as soon as we heard the Italian people on the phone, we were in the car. We thought, OK. Maybe, just maybe this might be real. And when we got to the boarding, the Somali boarding, the Italian boarding that we went to, and we saw the Italian people standing there, we knew. We knew we were safe.


AMANPOUR: Did you think you were ever going to make it out?


AMANPOUR: Did you ever think you'd make it out? Did you think you would die there?

CALITZ: We were never sure. Maybe. We weren't sure. We were never sure.

PELIZARRI: Always in our thoughts.

CALITZ: It's like being on death row. I understand what it feels like to be on death row. We know what that feels like. It's terrible. It's like a nightmare. It doesn't seem real.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel -- ?

CALITZ: We didn't believe it could happen to us.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel the nightmare's over now?

CALITZ: Yes, yes. Our dream has changed now. We've got a new reality now.

PELIZARRI: Most different.

CALITZ: A new dream to look forward to. We're back together with our family. And I think at this, it's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. And that's what we want. If only this war would stop. It needs to stop around the world. There needs to be peace throughout the world.

AMANPOUR: You have two grandchildren who were born while you were in captivity. Have you seen them yet?

PELIZARRI: No. Not yet.

CALITZ: We've seen one. And we've seen photographs of the other.

AMANPOUR: So what are you looking forward to most right now?

CALITZ: Being together with all our family, with everybody. It's been so hectic with people and so many people are out there supporting us. And that is great. Everybody has been so wonderful to us. It's so overwhelming, what's happening.


PELIZARRI: The dictionary hasn't got the words for it. I think we need new words in it.

AMANPOUR: Well, you have both been very, very expressive. Debbie and Bruno, thank you very much for telling us your story.

CALITZ: Thank you. Thank you for letting us.

PELIZARRI: Thank you for giving us the opportunity, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Take care.


AMANPOUR: That's truly an incredible story. And when we come back, we'll remember a master storyteller, Nora Ephron. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Nora Ephron gave the world great gifts, as an author, a screenwriter and a trailblazing director. She died Tuesday at the age of 71 from complications from leukemia.

Rita Wilson starred with her husband, Tom Hanks, in one of Nora's biggest hit films, "Sleepless in Seattle." Rita also starred in Nora's recent play off-Broadway. And she joined me by phone to remember her friend.


AMANPOUR: Rita Wilson, thank you so much for joining me.

RITA WILSON, ACTRESS: Well, Christiane, thank you for having me on the show. It's a privilege to be able to talk about my dear friend, Nora.

You know, it was completely shocking, because Nora did a thing that was actually a gift that she gave to all her friends, which was she didn't tell anyone that the last six years she had been battling this disease.

And knowing her, what she was doing was understanding that if she had spoken to anybody and if she had told anybody, that everybody would have treated her differently.

And she didn't want to be treated differently. She wanted to have uncensored, unfiltered friendships and time with her friends, so that it didn't alter the relationship. And she -- I think she was absolutely right about that, and it was a gift that she actually gave all of us.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, then, to talk about not just your friendship with her, but you also worked with her. You were in her play, "Love, Loss and What I Wore," and certainly your husband, Tom Hanks, has been in her movies, "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail." What was it like to work under Nora Ephron as a director?

WILSON: Absolutely exhilarating to work with her. I -- in "Sleepless in Seattle," I did a scene that was describing a film called "An Affair to Remember."



WILSON: And she gave me the script and I was absolutely thrilled that I got to act in a movie written by her.

So when we were shooting on that day, she said this amazing thing. We just had a blast. It was great. It was fun.

And she said, "You know, whenever I tell this story, I don't know. I imagine that blanket, that blanket that she puts over her knees."

And she says, "What if you take the napkin and pretend it's the blanket?"

And, honestly, that was the most beautiful piece of direction. And she didn't say that in front of everyone. She would whisper it in your ear. She never made you feel that you were doing something wrong. She only made you feel as if, "Wouldn't this be fun? Let's try it this way."

And you know, that, combined with the amazing words that she wrote that we all got to say, was an amazing experience, truly.

AMANPOUR: Everybody knows Nora Ephron for her incredible wit, for her multitalented personality. She was a blogger, a journalist, a writer. She was, as we said, a script writer and a filmmaker and a producer and a director. She was all of these things in a Hollywood that didn't favor women directors. She blazed a trail there.

How do think she did that? And was it easy for her? Or was it difficult being a woman?

WILSON: I think it was always difficult. It's always difficult being a woman in the film industry. It's still that way. There still aren't enough female directors. But Nora told me that she didn't, you know, start directing until she was 50, or just about 50.

And I think, at that point in her life, she had already decided and had experienced success in many areas and she was a person who had a vision. If she wanted to do something, she figured out a way to do it.

So by that time, I think she was at a point in her life, as many women are when they get to a certain age, and they just say, you know, damn it, I don't care what anybody thinks. I'm going to do it my way.

She was able to proceed in a way that allowed her strengths to come through and allowed her talent to come through, because I think she was sort of liberated and free by any sort of constraints of what people might think that she was doing. I think she was, you know, completely confident in her talent as a director, because she was so confident in her talent as a writer.

AMANPOUR: And Meryl Streep, who she also directed and she wrote screenplays for, has emailed that, reading all the comments about her that are going along on various websites and online right now, she said, "You realize how many women considered Nora a friend, people who never met her except through her writing.


AMANPOUR: "She had such a wide circle of intimates. And she'll be such a big absence in so many people's lives."

How do you think that she will be remembered? What do you think her legacy is?

WILSON: It's so hard to extract the legacy from -- that the world would have from the legacy that she has with me personally. But I will attempt to say that the legacy that she has left with me personally is, you know, to always say yes. She was so supportive. She was so empowering to her girlfriends, to her men friends.

She allowed everybody a voice at the table. She was a person who didn't say, you know -- she never made you feel bad. She never made you feel small. She could do that. You know, we -- she was the most witty, most intelligent, most, you know, hilarious person at the table, nine times out of 10.

And she could have taken anybody down at any point. But she didn't do that. She didn't use her intelligence in that way, and she didn't use her wit in that way.

And I think, you know, for me, as Mike Nichols said, you know, when my dad died, "Rita, the conversation continues." I think it will be a continuation of my conversations with her and my discussions with her and the friendship that we have.

I don't think she's going away in my soul. She'll always be there. And I think she'll be there for many women, many, many women. I often go to websites just to see her quotes --

AMANPOUR: That's true.

WILSON: -- because they're so funny and so true. She always spoke the truth. She would say what you were thinking. And that was always just hilarious and kind of spooky, in a way.

AMANPOUR: One of her greatest gifts.

Rita, thank you so much for sharing your memories today.

WILSON: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: When it came to creating new roles for women, Nora Ephron did it on the big screen.

Gloria Steinem did it in the public sphere, with two little letters. A conversation with the founder of "Ms." magazine when we return.


AMANPOUR: And finally, imagine a world before "Ms." magazine. Forty years ago, when women's magazines were largely focused on hemlines and casserole recipes, most people thought MS stood for manuscript or multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease.

Led by cofounder Gloria Steinem, "Ms." magazine broke the mold, offering women a new way of looking at themselves and their world.

I had the chance to sit down with Gloria Steinem at the recent Women in the World Summit in New York. And as you'll see, she's as independent, as involved and as much of an activist as ever.


AMANPOUR: Countries around the world look at the United States and they say, you know, you're always preaching to us about equality and democracy. And yet here in Afghanistan, we've got 25 percent of our parliament is women by law. In the United States, it's 17 percent.

Here in Bangladesh, or in India or in Pakistan, we've had women prime ministers and presidents, and in Europe. And yet you still haven't had in the United States. What do you say to that?

GLORIA STEINEM, AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: I say they're right. I mean, American exceptionalism is sometimes how bad we are about not having child care or health care or -- you know, and of course, those countries have dangerous situations for women, even more than we do.

But it is true that the countries that have advanced, whether it's Scandinavia or in India or in Afghanistan, have set numerical goals so that they have something to work toward. Here it's more difficult because there's more power here. So there's more competition for these positions.

I think we finally get somebody as president and we finally get 50 percent of the Senate they are more likely to be people who really represent the majority of women and not people who are there because of family or because of other interests.

AMANPOUR: You spent a lifetime seeking equality for women and parity in our public sphere. Is your work done here in the United States?


STEINEM: Is my work done? It's barely begun, barely begun. I mean, are men raising infants and little children as much women are? No. And therefore men don't get to develop their whole human empathetic selves, which they have. And kids grow up thinking that male authority is only in public life and female authority is -- and the whole thing happens all over again.

AMANPOUR: Is it a zero-sum game, or is there a way to achieve this?

STEINEM: Well, there certainly is a way to achieve it. But I think that we're still victims of bias if we only count our progress by occupying positions previously held by men. I mean, Martin Luther King didn't occupy a position previously held by anybody. So social justice movements, and especially women, because we're half the world, progress not only by occupying what exists, but by creating what doesn't exist.

AMANPOUR: If you look around the world in your lifetime and today, who is the political leader, the cultural leader, the sports leader, whoever, what is your inspiration as a leader?

STEINEM: Well, the truth of the matter is ordinary -- I mean, ordinary people, you know, because there they are, with no support, no recognition. In the case of women, they're frequently still the servants in their own households. They're judged crazy or difficult or words that end with B -- begin with B, you know. And they're doing it anyway.

And they're doing it anyway.


AMANPOUR: Gloria Steinem, a remarkable and down-to-earth woman. Interestingly, it wasn't until 1986, 14 years after "Ms." magazine, that "The New York Times" finally adopted those two little letters, Ms., as a title for women.

That's it for this week. Meantime, you can always see our program online and join in the conversation around our stories at Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.