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Planet UN, Filmed in a Parallel Universe, Awaits Spiderman Rescue from Critics

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Movie Review

UNITED NATIONS, January 21 -- In a time before the Oil for Food scandal, in a peacekeeping mission free from rape or sexual abuse, in a Security Council not crippled by five countries' veto power, an hour-long film was made and premiered Wednesday at the UN. The movie's director Romuald Sciora told the Press that there is more to come, including a comic strip in which "Spiderman will save the UN." The film already surrounds the UN with a force field, which apparently did not allow any critics or even much criticism in.

   In three acts -- peacekeeping, development and human rights -- the film celebrates the UN. The UN in turn celebrated the film on Wednesday. In the afternoon, the heads of Public Information and Partnerships, Kiyo Akasaka and Amir Dossal respectively, offered praise at a press conference. Inner City Press asked about rape by peacekeepers and the UN's inability to discipline the culprit.

   Sciora acknowledged that this is not in the film. He said if member states have more money, rape would be less likely to happen. But the problem is structural: the UN puts blue helmets on nation's soldiers, but takes on no disciplinary power over them. All the UN does, in the case of rape, is send a soldier back to his country, which often does not prosecute. Nevertheless, the UN loudly proclaims "zero tolerance."

  Both Messrs. Akasaka and Dossal appear in the film, as do a range of UN characters from Ban Ki-moon and his spokesperson Michele Montas to his senior advisor Kim Won-soo and recent Middle East spokesman Ahmed Fawzi. (Fawzi on Wednesday told the Press that Ban was warned not to travel in Gaza, but wouldn't say from whom the warning had come.)

    There are UN supporters from Ted Turner to William Luers, and two Ambassadors, Switzerland's Peter Maurer and France Jean-Maurice Ripert. Despite this last, there appears to be no mention of the Security Council's critical flaw, the veto held by the US, France, UK, Russia and China. These Permanent Five use the veto to put their sins, and those of their closest allies, out of the reach of the. This is another reason the UN loses credibility. But it is not mentioned in the film.

Director Sciora and UN's Akasaka, Oil for Food, P-5 and peacekeepers' rape not shown

  The film appears designed to indirectly counter criticisms made of the UN without mentioning them.  Rwanda is mentioned, with Boutros Boutros Ghali correctly blaming the US for wanting to avoid the word genocide, while complaining at any focus on his unacted-on memo showing he knew that genocide was afoot. But corruption and waste, for example, which for some in the US including its Congress are synonymous with the UN, make no appearance in the film. To make an hour-long movie about the UN since 1994 and not mention the Oil for Food scandal, or even the Iraq debate and war, undermines the project's credibility and utility.

  Sciora said in French that it is a word of "vulgarization," or popularization, designed for a boy "in Texas" who doesn't know about the UN, to "make him see the world differently." That so much of the film is in French, even from interview subjects who speak perfect English, may make it a hard sell in Texas. That it may be propaganda was not addressed.

  Admittedly, there are many attacks on the UN, not all of them fair. As simply one Wednesday example, a New York Daily News story went out on the wires identifying as a UN official the president of a non-governmental organization which comments to the UN, and who was found with child pornography in his bags at JFK airport. Ironically, the UN's own Department of Public Information distributed this internally as a UN-relevant story.

    Inner City Press asked DPI chief Kiyo Akasaka if he was aware of the "" project, and he said he was. (Click here for Inner City Press' previous review.) Akasaka's review is that he wouldn't recommend that his family see it. But Planet UN is at least equally one-sided. Where is the balanced film, that analyzes the UN's functioning, accomplishments and failures, and calls it to live up to its laudable goals? 

  The most concrete achievement shown in the film is the UN's work on children and armed conflict, demobilizing child soldiers from Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. But now at the LRA rampages through remotest Congo, the UN has no one nearby, only repeats its threat that the LRA's Joseph Kony will face justice. When?

  The film ends with four full screens of dense text, leading to not insubstantial laughter in the theater. A film student interviewed by Inner City Press called the production values "amateur" -- it did smack of some sort of UN home movie, with uncles and aunts droning on -- and found it significant that the UN would think this a high profile film project that did it proud. Perhaps, then, the current UN lives in a parallel aesthetic universe as well. To be charitable, Sciora referred to a forthcoming book about the UN, including analysis by Noam Chomsky, who is now a Senior Advisor to UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. Perhaps it will work better in text, or in 2010 in comics.

   After the film, a so-called debate was held in the UN basement auditorium, at which four supporters of the UN blamed all problems on the UN's lack of resources, or the inordinate power of the "International Misery Fund," as panelist Ann-Cecile Robert crowd pleasingly called it in French. Lewis Lapham of Harper's Magazine telling did not know about the Millennium Development Goals, but said the UN needs a strong and articulate voice, but no questions were allowed from the audience about this. Does the UN at present have such a voice?

  Up in the UN's lobby Wednesday night, Inner City Press asked Sha Zukang of the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs why he was not in the movie, while the outgoing Administrator of the UN Development Program is. I only care about results, Sha said, adding that even those the December 2008 budget debate assigned most of the new development posts to regional commissions and not his department, he is still happy. China doesn't need the UN to do development, he said. China, too, operates in a parallel universe. The worlds are supposed to meet at the UN, but sometimes as in this case there is a failure to engage.

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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