In the documentary, U.N. Me (in theaters and on VOD this Friday, June 1), filmmakers Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff show how an organization created to ennoble mankind now actually enables corruption and sows global chaos. I recently had a chance to interview Ami Horowitz about the UN and about his documentary for the Independent Voter Network.
Here's what he had to say:
How did you come up with the name "U.N. Me?" Is that a play on "Super Size Me?"
Horowitz: My wife came up with the name and if I was planning on staying married, then that was the name I had to go with. It was not meant to be a play on Super Size Me, but rather it describes several layers of relationships, the relationship between me and the U.N., the U.N. and the viewer and the viewer and the film. If that sounds too pretentious we could go with, yup, a play on Supersize Me.
In making this documentary, what was the most flagrant example of malfeasance or corruption in the U.N. that you encountered or learned about?
Horowitz: Let me count the ways. The most infuriating thing is that our money, estimated in 2011 to be upwards of $10 billion, is funding the United Nations’ anti-American sentiments and at times actions. We are acting as their enablers! All the while they are completely opaque. That opacity is directly related to the fact that they are a corrupt and wasteful institution.
Would you say the problems at the U.N. arise mostly due to corrupt people, or inherently flawed systems / processes?
Horowitz: Both and more. You have bureaucrats with a foggy moral vision who try to appease the lowest common denominator of their memberships. Exemplified by the memorably nauseating quote by Kofi Annan, when discussing the U.N.’s role in Rwanda, “the U.N. must stay impartial even in the face of genocide.” The other side of the same coin is that the organization is dominated by thugs and tyrants who often become the shadow captains of this demented good ship lollypop. Tie it all up in a completely corrupt wrapper and there you have the United Nations.
Can the U.N., in your opinion, be reformed, or is it too badly corrupted as an institution to do anything but disband or withdraw from?
Horowitz: I do not see the U.N. being reformed. The rot in my opinion has seeped into the bones of the institution and no amount of surgery will be able to remove it. What I would like to see is a confederation of democracies in which liberty and freedom are the ethos of the organization.
What checks are in place that are at least supposed to prevent some of what you expose in your film? Any? Who polices the world's police?
Horowitz: Ostensibly the member states are supposed to stand up against oppression and malfeasance. In reality, nothing stands in their way except for the United States. Europe is so lost in their haze of moral equivalence that they certainly have no moral weight, and China and Russia are part of the problem. The United Nations has fallen off of the rails and so it is up to the only superpower in the world to try to right it. The question really becomes, should we?
Many conservatives in the United States are critical of the U.N. because they believe it threatens U.S. national sovereignty. Many progressives would be livid at some of the corruption you expose in your film. Which of these two broad groups (and I realize we're dealing with generalizations and labels here) would you say U.N. Me has resonated with the most? Do you think this could be an issue where concerned Americans can unite across the partisan divide in support of substantive solutions?
Horowitz: I knew that conservatives were going to be attracted to this movie. That was the basis of our entire model. It was the liberals that were going to be the wild card. At first, the working assumption was that they would reject the movie as conservative claptrap. But once we began screenings, the opposite was true. Liberals began to change their entire viewpoint on the United Nations after seeing the movie. The only distinction between conservatives and liberals, was that liberals were so outraged by what they saw on screen, the humor got in their way. Conservatives, on the other hand, were aware of many of the issues that we discussed, so they were able to enjoy the humor far more.
Has any general ideological group, or specific individual or organization been especially hostile to the message in your film?
Horowitz: I find that Europeans generally are particularly hostile to the movie. They find the idea of a moral high ground to be an obnoxious thought. They also find that preaching against a particular ideology, for instance radical Islam, is dubious, possibly even racist. Their moral compass has been broken for years. They find that my focus on corruption and wastefulness borders on greediness.
What policy recommendations would you advance to solve the problems viewers will learn about in U.N. Me?
Horowitz: There are three things that could change the course of the United Nations. First, they should throw out at least one country that clearly violates the principles of the charter. I suggest North Korea. Secondly, they reform the United Nations Human Rights Council to only include countries that uphold the ideals of human rights. Thirdly, they should create immediate transparency and openness in all matters.
You've got a gutsy, humorous approach to documentary-making, especially as highlighted by some of the segments in your trailer. I see shades of Michael Moore in places (in a good way-- referring to his dead-pan humor and sense of irony, not some of his deceptive editing practices). Who are your influences and inspirations when it comes to documentary-making?
Horowitz: Obviously I am influenced by Michael Moore. Say what you will about his politics, he has taken the staid documentary genre and turned it on its head. Sasha Baron Cohen, who is not, strictly speaking, a documentary filmmaker, has an interview technique that I have emulated in many ways. I was so enamored with both of their styles, that I hired much of their teams.
What got you into making films? Has it been more rewarding than investment banking?
Horowitz: I had an epiphany one evening while watching Bowling for Columbine. I thought it was such an effective medium to get a political point across, and I was inspired to use that medium to expose the U.N., which I’ve always been passionate about. Has it been more rewarding? Duh!
Is it hard to get started making documentaries? Expensive?
Horowitz: It was incredibly hard to get started. I had no filmmaking experience whatsoever, but I knew I had to assemble an all-star team to make it. No expense was spared in making this film, not in talent, location shoots, or security.