One of my most frequent criticisms of young Christian or conservative filmmakers is that in their zeal to jump into the movie game they often send out a product that isn't ready for primetime. No message is powerful enough and no marketing campaign persuasive enough to disguise a lack of time and effort. This is particularly true for documentaries, which rely so heavily on hard reporting and investigation.
This was why while watching U.N. Me I had to pause to look up writer/director/producer Ami Horowitz's biography. Did I really hear that this was his first film? Yes, I did. But when some further investigating revealed that he's been working on it since 2006, I understood how a freshman effort could be so polished and authoritative.
Though the number of years he dedicated to it unmistakably plays a part in U.N. Me's effectiveness, it's obvious from the outset that Horowitz has innate talent for the medium. He clears the biggest hurdles to successful documentary making with inches to spare, keeping a tight focus on his subject and digging deep to support his thesis. To gather evidence on the scandals, indifference, and outright criminality of the United Nations, he pounds pavement the world over, cornering officials, giving microphones to witnesses, and delving into archives. The end result is an indictment verified by people up and down the U.N.'s chain of command with paper trails miles long, all delivered with a wit rarely seen in political films. (There's no doubt that Horowitz owes something of his style if not his substance to Michael Moore.)
However, unlike Michael Moore and a number of documentarians on the right, Horowitz and his team aren't content to rely on experts in their own ideological camp. While he doesn't get many American politicians with D's next to their names on camera, he does wrangle plenty of face time with current and former U.N. officials as well as insiders and journalists who likely wouldn't agree with someone who's written for National Review on anything else.
Describing what he saw while serving as a U.N. peacekeeper, including arms and child-sex trafficking that went routinely unpunished, one young lawyer says sadly about the U.N., "They're bureaucrats in the most banal and cowardly sense of the word."
Nobel laureate Jody Williams is another standout interview (her brief profanity supplies the only objectionable content in the PG-13 film). An avowed liberal and Occupy Wall Street sympathizer, Williams is nonetheless scathing in her disdain for the U.N., which she developed while working for them. Tapped 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 (which includes China, Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia) promptly rejected her report without further plans for action.
Throughout, Horowitz's tongue-in-cheek questioning points out the primary fault line running through the U.N's approach to every conflict-namely that it adheres to a relativistic worldview that has no standard for immorality. But he goes further than this, drawing a connection to massive-scale evil in every age and how it is always facilitated by self-deemed intellectuals who philosophize away fixed notions of right and wrong.
What's the biggest lesson the international peacekeepers and self-proclaimed human-rights protectors learned from the genocide of 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda, Horowitz asks former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno. "I think what one has to do following a tragedy like Rwanda," Guéhenno replies haltingly, "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.
Horowitz covers many such outrages at the U.N., making U.N. Me a rare form of documentary-comprehensive, convincing, and (most unique of all) entertaining. It releases to select theaters on June 1, and for those who enjoy films that demand critical engagement and don't happen to live in a major metropolis, it is also releasing on Video On Demand.