Not everyone has the motivation (or is brave enough) to quit their job, which they’ve been successful in for over a decade, to make a documentary about some of the international injustices that make them upset. But former investment banker Ami Horowitz did just that with his new film U.N. Me. After watching the Michael Moore Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, Horowitz was so inspired to showcase the injustices he has found with the United Nations that he decided to make a film about it.
U.N. Me follows Horowitz, who served as the film’s co-director, co-writer and producer, as he exposes what truly happens behind the closed doors of the titular international organization. Through interviews and Moore-inspired humor, Horowitz and his co-director and writer Matthew Groff aim to show the incompetence and corruption of the U.N. The two also strive to illustrate how the organization, which strives to facilitate cooperation on international law, actually enables chaos and global discord.
Horowitz generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about filming U.N. Me. The new filmmaker discussed, among other things, his transition into film-making with the documentary, why he was inspired to make a movie about the U.N. and what his working relationship with Groff was like.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: U.N. Me follows you and your co-director, Matthew Groff, as you look to expose the numerous scandals and cases of abuse of the U.N. What was your motivation in making the film?
Ami Horowitz: You know, it’s interesting, I didn’t have any film-making experience at all. I never actually wanted to make a movie.
But then I was sitting home on a Saturday night, watching Bowling for Columbine, the Michael Moore movie. I had seen it before, so I was kind of drifting off a bit. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I was thinking about the United Nations. I got really upset, and I was thinking about Uganda and Sudan.
I was feeling very upset and small, and I wanted to actualize those feelings. I looked over at the screen, and I saw the Michael More movie. I thought, this is a really engaging medium. That’s when it all kind of came together. I thought, this is what I have to do, I have to quit my job and make a movie.
WGTC: You said you were inspired to make the movie after you saw Bowling for Columbine. Did Michael Moore inspire you at all while you were making U.N. Me?
AH: I think all his films had a certain inspiration in what we did. I think the fact that he took this genre, and turned it on its head was something that fascinated me. So I think I was standing on his shoulders when I made this movie.
WGTC: How did you and your co-director and writer Matthew Groff start working together on the film? Did you approach him with the idea, or did he ask you to be a part of the film?
AH: That was an interesting thing. I didn’t think that I would be able to direct a film myself, so I was looking for a director. I had no intention of being a director.
I interviewed a bunch of people, and the fit wasn’t right. This last person I interviewed said “I don’t know if you want him, but I have a PA (production assistant) who works for me. He has some talent, and you might be interested in meeting him.”
I met with him over a number of drinks, and it hit me that this was the right fit for me. He was a talented guy who had a lot of things that I didn’t have. There were things that I had that he didn’t have. The fit ended up perfectly, and we ended up co-directing the movie.
WGTC: What was your working relationship with Matthew like once you began shooting the movie?
AH: Great question, I’ve never gotten that question before. The relationship was very interesting, because we had our own focuses of expertise. His regarded anything technical. The area of mine was essentially story and style.
Actual writing and editing, we shared those duties pretty equally, alongside our editor (Doug Abel). I actually had no technical experience. I needed someone like Matt who understood the technical aspects of film-making.
WGTC: Even though U.N. Me focuses on a serious subject, you often infuse comic relief into the movie. Why did you decide to include comedy in the film?
AH: I thought it was an indispensable part of the movie. When I was first conceiving of this idea to make this movie, it was unfathomable to me that I would do anything but a documentary with a sense of humor.
The first reason I wanted to include humor is because watching a movie like this would be unbearable if it was a straight documentary with talking heads, or a stock footage documentary. You would need levity to get through the process.
Also, if you want to get people to see any movie, comedy’s always the way to go. Comedy’s always a driver to get people to see a movie. It was clear to me that if we wanted to get the widest possible audience, we had to entertain first. That was the primary goal, and we had to educate second.
WCTC: The film feature interviews with such politicians as Norm Coleman and Simon Deng. What was the process like in getting people to agree to give interviews for U.N. Me?
AH: The politicians that we interviewed only had a direct interaction with the U.N. It wasn’t really for opinions; everyone had a certain relationship that they had with the U.N. that we wanted to get a better understanding of. So that was the only reason why we did it.
It wasn’t meant to be political at all. We didn’t want to make it left or right, Republican or Democrat. Each one had a specific relationship with the U.N. that we were trying to get to.
WGTC: What kind of reactions have you been receiving about the film?
AH: One reaction I got was this guy stood outside of my apartment a few months ago. When I came out, he asked me if the movie was more important than my family. So that was one big (or over) reaction.
From the U.N. itself, crickets, oddly so, in fact. My understanding from somebody’s whose inside the U.N. is that there’s a task force assembled inside to do damage control when the movie hits. You would think that they would spend their money on a task force to address the issues that we bring up in the movie, but apparently not.
The reaction from audiences at test screenings has been really good. I’m really happy with it.
WGTC: U.N. Me won Best Documentary at the New Hampshire Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out you had won?
AH: I’m grateful. As a filmmaker, it’s really nice when you’re acknowledged by anybody. I feel very gratified.
WGTC: Before you began filming U.N. Me, you worked as an investment banker for 13 years. Did you draw on any of your experiences as a banker as you were making the movie?
AH: It was clearly helpful when I was raising the money to make the movie. As an investment banker, you really have to be aggressive to get in front of people. Most of the time, people don’t want to take your phone calls.
You have to be aggressive to get in front of somebody and make your pitch. You also have to do a good job once you’re there, and take advantage of the opportunity when it arrives.
I think with the film-making process, it’s very similar. A lot of times, it was difficult to get the interviews we got. In fact, some took tremendous amounts of time, years, literally, to get. I think it helped to draw upon on my experience to not give up. We pretty much got all we were looking for.
So that’s a skill that I certainly think came to use, and for raising money for the movie. Without that skill, I don’t think I would have been able to do it.
WGTC: One of the topics you discuss in U.N. Me is how the largest U.N. humanitarian effort ever conceived, the Oil for Food Program, turned into one of the biggest scams in the history of the world, and how the U.N. never disciplined or fired those in charge. Why were you so interested in this one particular subject?
AH: I wouldn’t say that I was particularly interested in that subject. More so, it’s emblematic of the U.N. itself. I think it really speaks to the depth of the corruption with the United Nations, and how bad it gets, and how nothing has changed since then.
It happened to be a big scandal. When it comes to corruption, it obviously comes to center stage.
WGTC: U.N. Me is your feature film directorial debut. Would you be interested in making more films in the future, and maybe a follow-up to this film in the future?
AH: Hell yeah, and hell no! U.N. Me 2 will never happen. If I never hear the words United Nations again, it will be too soon.
WGTC: Are there any particular subjects that you’d be interested in filming instead?
AH: I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it. But in all honesty, I haven’t come to any conclusions. This process of getting this movie out and seen by people is so important.
You know how the Mayan calendar ends sometime in December 2012? The calendar ends, and there are no more days beyond that? This movie being released is the end of my calendar. (laughs)
That concludes our interview with Ami Horowitz, but we’d like to thank him for talking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out U.N. Me, which is now available On Demand.