As the United Nations prepares to commence the 60th session of the General Assembly next week with a three-day summit on institutional reform, some of the world body's critics have readied suggestions of their own. An hour-long documentary film, "Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60," uses this year's milestone as an occasion to chronicle the organization's failings since its inception, and to raise questions about whether the world body should perpetuate itself for another 60 years.
The film, set for nationwide release this month, is the brainchild of an actor and activist, Ronald Silver, and the president of the Citizens United Foundation, David Bossie. Citizens United is a Washington, D.C.-based conservative advocacy organization that, among its other activities, produced "Celsius 41.11," one of the documentary films to emerge last year as a rebuttal to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911." Mr. Bossie is a former chief investigator for the House of Representatives.
In "Broken Promises," Mr. Bossie turns his investigative instincts to the United Nations, to provide a "broad look ... to show just what the U.N. has successfully and not so successfully done in the last 60 years." The film, Mr. Bossie said, documents the world body's failures to intervene in massive human-rights abuses over the decades, and touches on recent financial scandals, including oil for food and the organization's proposed $1.2 billion renovation of its headquarters at Turtle Bay.
The documentary, which Mr. Bossie said cost around a half-million dollars to make, contains interviews with a diverse assortment of commentators. They include an Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky; a former chief of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Romeo Dallaire, who is a retired Canadian general; a former Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, who, along with a former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, serves on an American congressional task force on U.N. reform, and the spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Stephane Dujarric.
Among the issues the film addresses are the United Nations' failure to prevent genocide in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and, most recently, in Dar fur, and the world body's failure to stand up to the murderous regime of the former Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein. The world body's treatment of Israel, too, is discussed, including its determination in 1975, in the form of resolution 3379, that Zionism is racism. Closer to home, the documentary features coverage of the organization's proposed renovation plans and the opposition from state lawmakers that has stalled U.N. hopes of expanding the Turtle Bay campus.
Two of the key players in that drama are also featured in the film: New York State Senator Martin Golden, Republican of Brooklyn, and the developer Donald Trump. Messrs. Golden and Trump testified before Congress about the renovation project in July, when Mr. Trump said the proposed costs of the refurbishment were exorbitant and offered to manage the project himself for a fraction of the price.
Mr. Bossie said "Broken Promises" would be the first documentary to turn a critical eye toward the world body, adding that he hoped it would bring another perspective to the discussions surrounding the 60th anniversary. Mr. Silver said that while U.N. reform has been a subject of ample discussion among journalists, politicians, and academics of late, part of the film's goal was to include in that dialogue American taxpayers, who, since they shoulder 22% of the world body's operating costs, have a special interest in ensuring that it lives up to its promises.
"We wanted to make it watchable and enjoyable regardless of how much information people had about the U.N.," Mr. Silver told The New York Sun, adding that he hoped a broadly accessible film would heighten public interest as debate over the United Nations escalates in coming weeks, with the imminent release of a report by the former Federal Reserve Board chairman, Paul Volcker, on the oil-for-food investigation, and of a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran's nuclear-weapons program.
Mr. Silver, in a phone interview Saturday, said his desire to document the United Nations' shortcomings on film was born of a long-running disillusionment. Growing up in Manhattan, Mr. Silver said, the United Nations was for him a source of pride, a nearby symbol of triumph over tyranny and a beacon of global optimism.
"The U.N. meant the birth of Israel," Mr. Silver added, referring to U.N. resolution 181, which in 1947 established the state of Israel.
Even in better, earlier times, however, the institutional makeup of the United Nations boded ill for the world body's ability to carry out its stated mission, Mr. Silver said. "Broken Promises," he said, examines some of these structural flaws, which, over decades, resulted in the United Nations' corruption. He cited, in particular, giving two of five permanent seats on the Security Council to the Soviet Union and Communist China.
Messrs. Bossie and Silver both said "Broken Promises" is not intended to propagate a particular political agenda, to advocate elimination of the United Nations, or to act as a hit piece on the world body. Indeed, Mr. Silver said he was surprised and impressed by the level of cooperation from the United Nations, which granted the production team extensive access to its Turtle Bay facilities, Mr. Silver said.
The public will have its first glimpse of the film on DVD next week, when the documentary is released to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly on September 13, Mr. Silver said. The New York City release will take place September 27 at the AMC Empire Theater in Times Square. Those unable to catch the film on the big screen can visit www.brokenpromisesmovie.com, Mr. Bossie said, where, starting next week, they will be able to download a trailer and film clips. The Web site will also be a portal for ordering the DVD, which sells for $19.99 and will be available in stores next month.