U.N. Me

Ami Horowitz in “U.N. Me”

“U.N. Me” is a simultaneously harrowing and hilarious look at the short comings and failings of the United Nations.  Filmmaker Ami Horowitz takes us on a fast paced, horrific tour of incompetence, bureaucratic indifference, questionable politics and waste.

The examples involve U.N. activities, or lack thereof, at home and abroad.  We see U.N. peace keepers  sloughing off at the beach and chasing after under aged women in Cote d’ivoire, where, we are told,  they actually established a pedophile ring.  We are shown U.N. vehicles being used in terror attacks while Javier Ruperez, Executive Director of the UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee, candidly admits  that the U.N. has not agreed on a definition of terrorism.   In April of 2009 a U.N. Anti-Racism Conference had, as its keynote speaker, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, Horowitz points out, considering all the other keynote speaker options in the world, was not exactly the best choice, to put it mildly.  We are told, and shown, that former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali refused to let the start of the Rwandan genocide cancel his tour through Europe, during which he received honorary college degrees, when he was badly needed back in New York.

While the film makes its case fairly convincingly, I had suspicions about the biased manner in which certain interviews seemed to have been edited.  In addition, some of Horowitz’s grandstanding techniques detract from the seriousness of the message that he is trying to convey. For example, he seizes an empty U.N. podium and proceeds to excoriate delegates.  The predictable result is that he is physically ejected from the U.N.  Ha, ha, we have seen it before.

It is important to remember that “U.N. Me” is not an objective piece of work, nor is any documentary for that matter.  As is the case in all documentaries, “U.N. Me” has a point of view and is framing its narrative in a particular way. This is not to say that the movie is wrong.  The film is compelling, horrific and brings problems to light, but I do have one major criticism.

My criticism, and one that the film could have easily addressed, is that we are not told who Ami Horowitz is and what his connection is to the material.   The documentary seems to want us to simply accept Horowitz as a poor man’s Michael Moore.  Now, when I mention the name Michael Moore, there is no need for an explanation of who he is or why he is making a particular documentary.  I think that there is an interesting connection and contrast to be made between Horowitz and Moore.

In Michael Moore’s first, 1989, documentary “Roger & Me” (an almost identical title to “U.N. Me”) Moore tells us who he is, a resident of Flynt Michigan.  He then tells us that the reason he is making the documentary is that General Motors is pulling out of Flynt, causing massive unemployment.  Moore is concerned about his community and establishes a dramatic compelling need.  He presents himself as an advocate for the common man.  Once Moore established this persona, in “Roger & Me,” he never had to look back.  Moore had branded himself.  In other words, he does not have to take much time in his subsequent documentaries to explain who he is, and why he does what he does, because we already know.  In contrast, Horowitz does not establish a dramatic need for what he is doing.  He is just a likeable, humorous, knowledgeable guy taking us on a tour and presenting us with his point of view.

“U.N. Me” presents a subject and a concern in a manner that is clear and entertaining if not always objective.  The filmmakers, at points, favor hi-jinks and editorial manipulations over solid reporting.  At the same time though the film also increased my awareness, was indeed thought provoking and will, hopefully, affect some sort of change.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 11, 2012, in Documentary, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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