By Ben Hoffman
It’s not hard to find somebody to mutter disdain towards the United Nations in the years since the World Trade Center attacks. It has been brought into question time and time again whether the organization is as irrelevant as its post World War I sister, the League of Nations, became before the Second World War. With the world on the cusp of global instability, it’s nice to know films like the 2005 documentary The Peacekeepers, currently showing on NUTV, are trying to probe into the usefulness of the UN.
Recent looks into the organization’s effectiveness are usually focused on the fallout of the American-led war on Iraq, a situation whose outcome could easily show the UN doesn’t mean anything in modern times. Thankfully, Peacekeepers dodges this bullet by focusing instead on Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies, a mission whose existence has been tied intricately to the efficacy of the UN since its inception in the cold war.
MONUC’s mission in recent times, and the film’s sordid tale, center around Ituri, an unstable region in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Focusing on the recent troubles with warlords and child soldiers in the region, The Peacekeepers directorial team had an unprecedented level of access to the inner workings of the UN demonstrating what life is like for the people holding the organization together and trying to help the locals.
Unlike many recent documentaries, Peacekeepers chooses to keep its audience captive through the tension of the diplomatic exchanges forming its subject. These conversations often create a sufficient atmosphere without relying on pandering. The downside to the drier, fact-directed style is the difficulty inherent in trying to keep up with all of the names and places presented in the incredibly complicated politics of an African civil war. Though at times the complex narration can make the film seem more like a special report on the news than a documentary proper, the exposition paints the Congolese crisis–and by extension the one the UN faces in a changing world–with a colour of struggling to adapt yet still overcoming problems, if only in the slightest.
It was a dangerous move for director Paul Cowen to look to crises in Africa to expose the meat of the day-to-day operation of the UN, especially considering most of the controversy surrounding the organization currently is generated by troubles in the Middle East but the film succeeded. As the movie closes with a squadron of MONUC soldiers driving away from the camera and an epic quote from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, one really does get the sense that the UN can help the world get over its problems. Canada should be proud it has generated such a startling and relevant look at the nature of peace in a terrifyingly big world.