Film review: U.N. Me

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, September 27th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A documentary from 2012 that’s especially worth re-watching this week as the meeting of the 2019 U.N. General Assembly is making some major headlines.

On a quiet Saturday night in 2006, investment banker Ami Horowitz was lying in bed in his Manhattan apartment watching Michael Moore’s groundbreaking documentary Bowling for Columbine. As he drifted off to sleep, he had an epiphany. Moore’s irreverent style of filmmaking would be the perfect vehicle for exposing the tyranny and corruption of the United Nations. Except, of course, Moore would never make that film. 

That’s when Horowitz, a conservative Jew, realized he could. He got up and started making notes. Less than two weeks later, he quit his job at Lehman Brothers to begin raising money for his first film project.

Six years later the vision Horowitz had that night became a reality. That’s when his first documentary, U.N. Me, hit theaters.

CLIP: Oh I’m sure there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, I don’t see that’s a crime. It may not be a crime, but wouldn’t the taxpayers of the world be disturbed to see the office of this U.N. staffer, who hung suicide bomber tributes on his wall? Personally, I prefer pictures of my kids.

While this is clearly an independent production, Horowitz clears the biggest hurdles to successful documentary-making with inches to spare. He keeps a tight focus on his subject and digs deep to support his thesis. He pounds pavements the world over to gather evidence on the scandals, indifference, and outright criminality of the United Nations. He corners officials, gives microphones to witnesses, and delves into archives. 

The end result is an indictment verified by people up and down the U.N.’s chain of command. And the paper trail is miles long. Horowitz delivers all of it with a wit rarely seen in political films. There’s no doubt he owes something of his style if not his substance to Michael Moore.

CLIP: How does the U.N. define terrorism? Well technically the United Nations so far has not been able to define terrorism. The U.N. member states have not been able to agree upon the definition of terrorism. The definition of terrorism is a very difficult thing. This is one of the pending matters in the United Nations. My own view quite frankly is that terrorism is a bit like pornography. You might not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it. Since defining terrorism is so important to fighting it, I thought to myself, how could I help the U.N. find a definition for terrorism. Do you have anything here that might help me define a word. You mean like a dictionary? Yeah, right behind you. This is a webster’s dictionary and we actually have a definition right here. You can take it to them. You can show it to the general assembly.

But unlike Moore and a number of documentarians on the right, Horowitz doesn’t rely just on experts in his own ideological camp. He doesn’t get many American politicians with D’s next to their names on camera. But he does wrangle plenty of face time with U.N. officials as well as with experts from the left-leaning Brookings Institute, for example. He also talks to insiders and journalists who likely wouldn’t agree with someone who’s written for, say, National Review, on any other topic.

One young lawyer describes the arms and child-sex trafficking he witnessed while serving as a U.N. peacekeeper. It routinely went unpunished.

CLIP: There are lots of places where young women are made available to folks with cash. U.N. staff took advantage of that. So you could go by these little brothels that were everywhere and see U.N. vans sometimes five, six, eight, ten of them out in front of the brothels. Everyone knew it was a brothel and everyone knew those were U.N. soldiers or U.N. staff.

Nobel laureate Jody Williams is another standout interview. Her brief profanity along with disturbing content surrounding human rights abuses accounts for the PG-13 rating. Williams is an avowed liberal who is nonetheless scathing in her disdain for the U.N. Disdain she developed while working for the agency to investigate human-rights violations in Darfur. Williams returned from her fact-finding mission with a report rife with details on mass rape, property destruction, and ethnic cleansing. The U.N.’s Human Rights Council promptly rejected her findings without further plans for action.

Horowitz’s tongue-in-cheek questioning points out the primary fault line running through the U.N’s approach to every conflict. It adheres to a relativistic worldview that has no standard for immorality. But he goes further than this. He draws a connection to massive-scale evil in every age. And he shows how it is always facilitated by self-deemed intellectuals who philosophize away fixed notions of right and wrong.

In one interview, Horowitz talks to the former U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations. He asks him to name the biggest lesson the international peacekeepers and self-proclaimed human-rights protectors learned from the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda.

CLIP: I think what one has to do following a tragedy like Rwanda, is not allocate the blame to one actor or another. 

Horowitz then suggests through interviews with journalists who covered Rwanda that by such logic the U.N. would similarly have had to reject any notion of guilt for the holocaust.

It’s just one of the many outrages Horowitz details. And that’s what makes U.N. Me a rare form of documentary: clear, comprehensive, and convincing. And, most disturbing, still all-too timely seven years after it was first released.

CLIP: The hallmarks of oil-for-food were privilege and secrecy. Which are in fact the hallmarks of the U.N. Oil-for-food was not an exception or some strange thing in an otherwise healthy institution. Oil-for-food was a fractal of the U.N.

(Photo/Frank Publicity, JTA) Ami Horowitz, director of the film ‘U.N. Me,’ next to a UN car in Cote d’Ivoire. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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2 comments on Film review: U.N. Me

  1. Linda Wallace says:

    I would love to watch this documentary. I have looked at every video source I know of without success. Do you know of a Sourced?

    Love the podcast! It is my primary news source.

    1. Megan Basham says:

      Hi Linda,

      Apologies, I meant to include this information in review. You can watch it for free at the digital library:

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