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Inner City Press Podcast --

Arts at the UN, Security That Sings and Jokes, Underground Films of Laos and Rwanda

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 21 -- While some at the UN deem the periodic classical music in the General Assembly chamber to be the height of entertainment, that often is the least of it. On May 18, for example, the UN's Security and Safety Service held a talent show replete with salsa dancing, Bonnie Raitt songs, two-drum tabla music from an Indian security staffer, and corny jokes from the MC, Gary Holmes. He repeatedly through a clock around the stage, each time saying, "Time flies."

            The event had been publicized all day on a television monitor in the UN's lobby, which showed stand-up comedy routines referring to Michael Jackson and others. But the actual event, held in the Dag Hammarskjold library auditorium, considered mostly of singing. There were songs by Angela Mckenzie, accompanied by a guitarist named Mick who also threw the clock, until Gary stomped on it and said he was "killing time."

            There were religious songs by Gary's co-organizer, Kenneth Lawrence, which drew croons and swoons from the crowd. There were two bouts of cabaret singing from the duo of John Martinez and Martha Katz: "Suddenly Seymour" and a second piece about love. They are said to perform all over the tri-state area. The sound system was run by Wayne Chin, a D.J. of Jamaican music who is often at the Security Council stakeout, as is Joanne McCreary, who was in the audience and received a tip of the cap from the stage.

            The show was closed out by Officer Rocky Colavito, who spoke of assisting the families of officers who run into bad fortune and who has been known to help children of people who work in mission to the UN, with everything from a puppy to a tour of UN secrets. His daughter sang, and the crowd went wild. There was an enthusiasm not found in the General Assembly chamber, whether debating resolutions by day, or listening to orchestral music by night. It was the real UN, and we'll wait for next year's Fifth Annual talent show, sure to be followed like this one by a D.J., huge speakers and a writhing crowd in the Ex-Press bar to the side of the General Assembly chamber. Rock on.

[Ed.'s note: while Inner City Press was, even before the Ex-Press bar, invited and encouraged to cover the show, the correct spelling of names, along with the program, was to have been sent over the weekend. Inner City Press apologizes for any mis-spellings and would be happy to correct them.]

Difficulty UN security assignment (DRC)

Two Films at UN: "Behind the Convent" & "Hunted like Animals"

            On a more serious note, at the other end of the arts-at-UN spectrum, on Monday a film about the Rwanda genocide was screened in a rundown DESA conference room on the 13th floor of the DC-2 building. The filmmaker, Gilbert Ndahayo, described "reconciliation" as being forced on Rwandan communities, as killers are released from jail and return to the local communities they did their killing in. He described the difficulty of making his film, "Behind the convent," with little to no outside help.

   The moderator, Rebecca Sommer, said that the Vietnamese mission to the UN has tried to get her film, "Hunted Like Animals," a side event to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, cancelled or pushed off UN grounds. The film details the plight of the Hmong people in Laos, and those who flee to Thailand, where right now the UN's refugee agency is at least temporarily constrained from helping refugees. Both films deserve, and hopefully will get, wider audiences than the dozen people in the DC-2 conference room on Monday.

   A woman from South African, also in town for the UNPFII, said she will try to get "Behind the convent" onto television in her country. One wonders why this thirty-minute film can't be screened in the Dag Hammarskjold library auditorium, particularly after the much-criticized postponement last month of the UN exhibition to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

            The connection between these two stories -- and there is one -- is that many of the security staff who patrol UN Headquarters have also been out in "the field," from Rwanda to, in Rocky's case, Central America, protecting UN envoys. What looks like a comfortable gig is in many cases a time after or before more dangerous assignment. These are the people who make the UN work. And, of those interviewed by Inner City Press, there is very little support for keeping their names secret, as for now the Secretariat does, click here for that story.

Finally, for now, because it appears that the UN needs more arts coverage, on May 22 in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium there will be a performance, announced by the Russian mission, by "gifted art students from Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous okrug," including Mlada, a folk song ensemble; Veretentse, a folk dance ensemble; Capriccio, a chamber ensemble; Theater of Costume from Surgut City; LegArt, a student ballet ensemble; and Ob and Ugro People Theater. Straight outta the okrug...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540