Douchan Gersi: Writer, Director, Explorer

Published 07 December 2015   

There’s a saying, ‘one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.’ It certainly applies to this man, who has gone to where no man has gone before. Salvador Bali speaks with Douchan Gersi. 

An Epic Life. Douchan Gersi at home in Bali.

An Epic Life. Douchan Gersi at home in Bali.

S.B. Adventure time.
D.G. My name is Douchan Gersi, I was born in Bratislava, Slovakia. I am 68 years old and I was married six times, and I have eleven children; six of my own and I also adopted five.

S.B. Are you married now?
D.G. No, I’m a single parent. I have a six and a half year old child, Mila, who’s mother is from Java and she left us because, I didn’t make her rich.

S.B. She was a headhunter?
D.G. Yes, as you say in America, a gold digger. I was writing books and poetry and editing my movies, for her that was not working.

S.B. Not a creative mind. Okay, lets back track a bit, what was your schooling?
D.G. At that time, we were very poor because we were political refugees, forced to change identity four times. My father had to change his name because he belonged to the royal family of Hungary and we escaped to Belgium, where we were supposed to be taken care of by the Canadian Government. Unfortunately, I was hidden in the back trunk of the car and I caught double pneumonia and an ear infection, so, because of my health, we couldn’t go to Canada. We waited, but eventually we had to hide in the Belgian Congo. I was twelve years old when we left to live in Belgium. I was not speaking French at that time, only Slovakian and three African languages, and I had no schooling up till then. I did some high school, but my main learning was by myself.

S.B. Did you go to college?
D.G. Yes. I studied ancient Greek, Latin and mathematics, but it was poor and boring for me and I started theatre, acting and such. At school I was bullied and laughed at because I couldn’t speak French properly. I decided to speak better French than all these people that were bullying me. I went to a special course at night to learn French and at the same time they proposed to me to do some acting and I started to write poetry. So there I was, in a completely different world from which I was at sixteen. I was then hired to make movies on people who made documentary movies, and from that I was offered to be an assistant director, carrying the sound equipment and film.

S.B. So you learned your trade on the job?
D.G. Exactly.

S.B.At what point did you get the bug to do your own documentaries?
D.G. I did five documentaries financed as a cameraman for other explorers at twenty two and I was living in the Suarez Tuareg and for two years in the Sahara Desert. There I met my first wife. We travelled by camel to Timbuktu. The film was a success and allowed me to get three book deals, and suddenly I had a career as a writer and telling stories. I met the King of Belgium, who was an explorer, and he had come back from uncharted regions in Borneo. He asked me if I would go there and that became the documentary Head Hunter’s of Borneo. I won awards for best cameraman, best documentary and also in Cannes, best documentary director, which was at the age of twenty-four. From that I filmed all over and finally found myself in Hawaii filming Lepers of Molokai. During that time I decided to move to America for various reasons and make my movies there. There was more money to be made, which gave me more freedom to do what I needed. I came to America with wife number two with child in 1982. I did underwater movies with Jacques Cousteau, and at that time UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) asked me to teach anthropology and the making of documentary films, which lasted for ten years.

S.B. That wasn’t the end of your film career, was it?
D.G. No, no. I took three months off, and they were very happy, because I financed my own projects instead of asking for a grant.

S.B. Obviously you’ve always had this adventure bug, and it’s probably why you could never stay married.
D.G Absolutely, because I’m a romantic.

S.B. At what point did you end up in Asia?
D.G. In 2000, after around twenty years based in Los Angeles, I decided to go back to India and study at the Maharaja High School and do a documentary. There I started a career as an actor in the Bollywood film industry. Even today they want me to play the white bad guy. I did a movie with Jason Connery and Omar Sheriff, Stigmata, I was with my fifth wife then and we had two boys. She was Afro-Indian.

S.B. You’re kind of a U.N. guy. Where did James Coburn come into the picture, so to speak.
D.G. Yes, yes. I became friends with James Coburn, and because I didn’t come to Hollywood to be an actor, there was no competition involved, so I became friends with many actors.

S.B. They were probably more in awe of you then you were of them.
D.G They would invite me to many parties and events.

S.B. They were acting the dream and you were living it.
D.G. Exactly. Never mind the boring dinners, I also became their exciting storyteller. I never thought in my life what I would do next. When people meet me, if they propose something and it excites me, I will do it.

S.B. At what point did you come to Bali?
D.G. I was living as a single parent with my two young boys and they weren’t happy in India. They wanted a stable life and my wife said to me, wherever you go, when I come to visit, don’t put me in a hotel, you have to have a big house. In 2003 I decided to move back to Bali, which I knew forty years ago in 1974, and here I am twelve years later.

S.B. Are you staying here now?
D.G. As you say, I’m feeling the bug; I will leave within a year. The problem is once again, I don’t know where I will go. I have no idea.

S.B.What’s your philosophy?
D.G.When my father was dying he offered his death to teach me how to live. At one point he started to cry and said I am being judged by me and me, hundreds of me, each of my consciences that I have tricked and not listened to when they came to tell me you are losing your time, I tricked them. My son, life is about experiencing life, not making money, life has been given to us to appreciate, and that’s what I have done since, experienced life, living from one extreme to another. I think he was right.

S.B. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Douchan Gersi passed away in Denpasar’s Sanglah Hospital on December 5, 2015, a few days after this story was first published in print. May he rest in peace. 


  1. I had the pleasure of meeting this world traveler and explorer back in 1988 when I invited him to become a judge on my National Television Competition for the U. S. Man of the Year, America’s first Search for the Ultimate drug free role Model from average America. He was one of the most interesting and sincere individuals I have ever met and was the inspiration for the ever famous Indiana Jones Character, after he befriended Stephen Spielberg.

    Posted by Veronica Brancato on 09 December 16 at 12:40am [Comment]
  2. Met him at Cineville. He and his then partner were interested in producing my Rimbaud
    scripts. Fascinating individual whose charm and charisma were extraordinary. Always
    kind. Loved his stories as much as his books.

    Posted by Will Schmitz on 09 January 18 at 2:27pm [Comment]
  3. Douchan invited my husband and myself to have dinner with his wife and two boys in Los Angeles when he heard that my father had just died after an arduous 16 years of illness. I didn’t really want to see anyone because I was devastated, but my husband insisted we accept the invitation.

    I was grateful for Will’s insistence. I had never met Douchan before that night, but he was very warm and kind. Douchan asked me to help him in the kitchen while he prepared pasta with garlic. He showed me his trick for peeling garlic. Then he told me stories then about his life and his own father. Somehow, I’m not even sure, how it happened, but when we left that night I was comforted by this man I barely knew.

    I saw Douchan only one other time, which was when he was editing his movie about Cuba. He was busy in the thick of it all and we did not have time to relate deeply. However, I will always remember Douchan with great fondness and I am very sad to hear that he has left us and sadder still that Will and I were unable to see him once last time. He was a very special and unique person and I am sure all that knew him will miss him terribly.

    Posted by Mary Schmitz on 09 January 18 at 2:44pm [Comment]
  4. One of the things Douchan never told the public was about a find in Africa. He found two recently deceased Pterodactyls, a mother and its baby. The pesticides were killing them. The local natives had alerted Douchan of their cattle being taken by birds, so he found the hills where they were and brought back to the states the head of one of them. The Smithsonian told him they were not changing history because of his find and refused to expose it.

    Till this day, no one knows where he left it? This story was told to me by Steven Seagal who also knew him.

    Posted by Patrick on 16 January 18 at 6:56am [Comment]

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