Conservative filmmaker Ami Horowitz is absolutely furious about the way the United Nations has responded to genocide, terrorism and other international crises. And to effect change, he’s determined to make you laugh about it.
It’s the goal of his debut documentary, “U.N. Me,” which was released to theaters and on digital on-demand services in June.
Horowitz calls the genre “docu-
tainment.” The film mixes hard-hitting foreign policy questions with physical comedy and comedic spoofs, all designed to show viewers that the United Nations has not lived up to its founding ideals.
Think filmmaker Michael Moore meets the Weekly Standard, with a little of MTV’s “Jackass” mixed in.
Take this scene, for instance: While investigating misconduct among peacekeepers in Côte d’Ivoire, Horowitz barges up to U.N. headquarters in the country, demanding to speak with Abou Moussa, who led the mission at the time. Denied entrance to the facility, Horowitz starts to walk away, then turns and does a running dive into a U.N. guard and the gate behind him.
Or this one: To emphasize what he describes as a lack of discipline within U.N. peacekeeping forces, Horowitz created a “Peacekeepers Gone Wild” skit — a parody of the popular and sexually explicit “Girls Gone Wild” series. After the skit, the film cuts to a segment about sexual assault and exploitation within the peacekeeping ranks.
“It’s a very fine line between humor and pathos. And juxtaposing horrific stuff with funny stuff heightens both,” he said in a recent interview.
Horowitz said the idea for the film came as an “epiphany” while he was sitting in his Upper West Side apartment on a Saturday night, watching Moore’s 2002 film, “Bowling for Columbine.”
“I was drifting off. I can’t tell you why, but I was sitting on the couch, thinking about Rwanda,” he said. “This wasn’t like other genocides. This happened when I was sentient.”
He thought, “Whose job was it to stop this? It’s the U.N.’s.”
Horowitz said he felt “infuriated,” “small” and compelled to act. And then he looked over at his TV and found inspiration from an unusual source (for a conservative, anyway): “Whatever you think of Michael Moore, you can’t ignore what he’s saying,” Horowitz said.
Within weeks, he had quit his job as an investment banker and set out to make his first documentary film.
It was a rare call to action. But for Horowitz, there was even more at stake. He saw a need for conservative voices in an entertainment-based genre dominated by liberal commentators.
“Conservatives have done a very poor job in media with the exception of talk radio and cable news,” he said.
Years ago, the left ceded talk radio to the right, he said, and the result has “been damaging” for liberals. “The same is happening in entertainment and film,” but this time it’s conservatives who are losing ground. He insisted that the implications are “huge” for Republicans who want to reach young voters.
Horowitz decided that using humor was the best way to get his message across, even though he didn’t have a “jonesing” for the genre. “If you’re talking about issues that are important, you need to be part of that political dialogue,” he said.
In “U.N. Me,” Horowitz used the storyline of an ordinary man taking on a sprawling bureaucracy, offering a right-of-center critique on why the U.N.’s “reputation doesn’t seem to reflect its grand mission.”
He said his objective is to push lawmakers to demand more transparency and accountability from Turtle Bay. By not demanding oversight, he said, Congress acts like an “enabler” for a “drug addict,” offering billions in taxpayer dollars without demanding results.
“I want to know what my money is being spent on,” he said. “We need to start getting serious about fundamental reform.”
‘Slick and Snarky’
Among the film’s many laugh lines, he backs up his demands with plenty of serious commentary from prominent conservatives.
Horowitz interviewed several Republican Members of Congress — including Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and former Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.) — about counterterrorism, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Iranian nuclear program. He also spoke with former Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) about the controversial Oil-for-Food program.
Democratic Members, he said, weren’t interested in participating.
Criticism of the U.N. sometimes cuts across party lines, particularly on scandals as egregious as the Oil-for-Food mess, which involved the Iraqi government profiting from oil sales intended to fund humanitarian needs. And Horowitz insisted he “did not want to make the film political” in a way that it would appeal only to right-leaning audiences (although he admits it contains a few “red meat” issues for Republicans).
He also pointed out that most of his crew and many of the U.N. officials he interviewed are liberals and that the film has been embraced by critics across the political spectrum.
The Los Angeles Times called the movie “slick and snarky.” The Washington Post noted that “his barbs draw blood.”
“That’s the heart of liberal media,” he said. “I couldn’t be more tickled pink.”
Ultimately, though, he said the success of the project will depend on whether audiences enjoy what they see.
“I wanted to make something I wanted to watch. If I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t want to show it,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz said he has no concrete plans for his next project, but he has definitely caught the media bug. “I think there is a world of material that needs to be exposed,” he said.