Ban Ki goes to Hollywood

On the eve of the Oscars, Korean secretary-general flies in to Los Angeles with plea for studios to showcase UN's real-life heroes. Guy Adams reports

The next time you see an action hero save the world and get the girl, he may very well be wearing a blue helmet. That, at least, is the latest cunning plan from the United Nations, which is hoping to enlist the film industry's assistance in helping to polish its public image.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN's secretary-general, quietly visited Hollywood this Oscar week, devoting an entire day to lobbying hundreds of the world's most influential actors, directors, and film producers about the potential benefits of storylines that portray his organisation in a positive light.

Mr Ban's "Global Creative Forum," to use its official name, was held at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and attended by Anne Hathaway, Demi Moore, Mira Sorvino, Sean Penn, Samuel L Jackson, director Jason Reitman, and such notable "suits" as the Universal Studios president, Ron Meyer.

"I'm here to talk to the creative community, Hollywood, about how they could help the United Nations," explained its host. "I want to work with Hollywood, to use its technology and great reach to spread the word about peace, [international] development, human rights and empowering women and girls."

Colleagues of the UN secretary-general say he's grown weary of the organisation being portrayed as a bumbling, New-York-based bureaucracy, and hopes to persuade film-makers to focus on the heroic stories behind its humanitarian work in countries such as Haiti, and peacekeeping missions in other global trouble spots.

"I really want to have the UN message coursing continually, and spreading out continuously to the whole world," he said. "The creative community, through [TV] and movies, can reach millions and millions of people at once, repeatedly, and then 10 and 20 years after a film's been made, the messages can be constant."

Mr Ban invited film-makers to consider using UN property as locations for projects that "change the attitudes and minds of people" about touchstone international issues such as climate change, eliminating poverty and preventing the spread of disease.

It has not always been so easy. In the 1950's Alfred Hitchcock was famously prevented from shooting a key scene in "North by Northwest" at the UN. Hollywood cameras were banned from its HQ right up to 2005, when Sydney Pollack succeeded, after endless lobbying, in getting permission to shoot the Nicole Kidman film The Interpreter there.

Warming to that theme in a Q&A session with Michael Douglas that kicked off the event, Mr Ban told delegates that the UN's activities were "sometimes more dramatic than Hollywood movies," and cited The Constant Gardener as a film that covered humanitarian and peacekeeping work in a compelling fashion.

To those who have sneered at his monochrome public image, the Korean-born secretary-general also made a shock admission: a life-long obsession with cowboy movies, which he likes for their "obvious difference between good and evil."

Mr Ban even likened his role to that of a sheriff hoping to maintain law and order. And he courted Mr Douglas by announcing that his film The American President, along with Spartacus, which starred the actor's father, Kirk, were among his favourite films.

The media was not invited to the conference, which was attended by 400 delegates, so that guests could talk freely. The press was also absent from a dinner for 300 industry figures hosted by Bill Clinton at a private house in the Hollywood hills.

Reports did, however, begin to emerge in the trade press this week, where it was revealed that Mr Ban spent part of the day in private meetings with Ms Hathaway, Mr Penn, Ms Moore and Maria Bello. The event's organiser, Eric Falt, is the director of the UN's Information Centre, which is dedicated to changing public perceptions of the organisation. He said proceedings were part of a long-running project, the Creative Community Outreach Initiative, to court the entertainment industry.

"We launched it a year ago, and the idea is to use pop culture to highlight issues that are important to the UN, but may be a little abstract for people to understand," he said. "If you make a film that, say, explores a topic like female trafficking, then you can make a huge difference to public appreciation of something that previously only academics or governments really knew about."

The project first made headlines last year, when Mr Falt persuaded the makers and stars of Battlestar Galactica to headline a conference discussing international diplomacy and human rights – key themes of the science-fiction programme – at UN headquarters with Whoopi Goldberg.

Since then, UN property, previously off-limits to all but the most dogged directors, has been used as a location for shows such as Law & Order and Ugly Betty, while the UN has been given a key role in the new season of 24.

"We also want to get film-makers to think about UN heroes," said Mr Falt. "We do have them out there, we really do, and they deserve to get attention. In the past we have maybe been a little hesitant about talking about this, and there has been a tendency to just look at the UN through the prism of this bureaucracy in New York."

To critics who might argue that his interest in the mass-media smacks of propaganda, Mr Falt said he was "not asking for creative control" in return for UN co-operation, citing a new film by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George.

Mr George, whose most famous film was scathing of UN inaction during the Rwandan civil war, is now making a film about Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat killed in a bombing in Iraq in 2003.

In a discussion at Monday's event, Mr George said his film would also be critical of some aspects of UN bureaucracy, but advised directors not to demonise the organisation: "For the lack of a bad guy, it's easy to turn to the monolith of the UN," he said.

United artists: The UN on screen

The first, and so far only, feature film made at UN headquarters was Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter, starring Nicole Kidman, and released in 2005. In the last year, though, the organisation has begun courting the producers of television series and major Hollywood movies. Recent successes include...



Ugly Betty

In an effort to lend gravitas to the fictional style magazine she edits, Betty spent the first episode of the latest season staging a fashion shoot at the UN headquarters in Manhattan. She got models to wear mosquito nets as part of a bizarre scheme to highlight a fictional fundraising appeal by using a malaria prevention. The show was shot on location last August.

Law & Order

No fewer than 200 members of the cast and crew of NBC's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit descended on the organisation's New York offices last year to film scenes from an episode called "Hell", which dealt with issues involving child soldiers and refugees.



24

The latest series of Kiefer Sutherland's action series is based squarely in New York. Most of the diplomatic action takes place at UN headquarters, where US President Allison Taylor and the leader of the Islamic Republic of Kamistan, Omar Hassan, are trying to hammer out a peace agreement between their two nations.



The Flying Chef

Israeli celebrity chef Gil Hovav travelled around the world to find dishes for inclusion in a smorgasbord to be presented to UN staffers. For the UN, the value of his visit to headquarters as a PR stunt is clear; how qualified the diplomats were to make culinary judgements is less obvious.

Sergio Vieira de Mello

The film-maker Terry George, who was behind the scathing genocide tale Hotel Rwanda, is now working on a biopic about De Mello, the UN special representative who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Already the subject of a biopic, Sergio, De Mello is seen as an example of the best of the United Nations. But director George has already bemoaned the difficulty of finding funding for projects deemed worthy and unglamorous.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam