Kofi Annan: Center of the Storm offers an unprecedented look into the life of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Produced by David Grubin Productions, the film aired on Channel Thirteen/WNET in New York and PBS affiliates on January 7 and was watched across the country in organized parties. The advance screening was co-sponsored by the Conflict Prevention Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Better World Campaign, United Nations Association of the United States, the World Federalist Association and the Washington, DC Area Model UN Program, with the generous assistance of Thirteen/WNET New York. An excellent repository of background information about the film, Kofi Annan, and the United Nations is available at www.pbs.org.

Shot with mini DV cameras, the film follows Annan, in cinema verité style, from October 2001, when he first learned he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, to May 2002, when he officially declared East Timor an independent state. Following the hectic pace of the life of the Secretary General, the cameras allow us to observe meetings with President George Bush and other world leaders as they discuss September 11 and its aftermath. Audience members watch as Kofi Annan and his team fly from Tokyo to Afghanistan, discussing their fund raising mission for starving Afghans. The film concludes with the independence ceremony of East Timor. The film is peppered with anecdotes and quotes from those close to Kofi Annan, including his wife Nane; John Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Sir Brian Urquhart, former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations; and Kishore Mahbubani, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations, among others. The film juxtaposes lighthearted moments such as the Secretary General appearance on Sesame Street with gruesome images of the genocide in Rwanda, where it is estimated that up to 800,000 people were killed during Annan’s tenure as Undersecretary General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The film offers a personal account into the life of Kofi Annan as he discusses his childhood, independence of his country, Ghana, and his opinion on the role of the Secretary General and future of the United Nations.

After the screening, audience members discussed the film with Lesley Norman and Sarah Colt of David Grubin Productions and Johanna Mendelson Forman, Senior Program Officer for the Peace, Security and Human Rights Program at the United Nations Foundation. The film crew was granted such a high degree of access due mainly to the close relationship they formed with Kofi Annan as well as his security team, Sarah said. She also noted that they had conceived of a television series focusing on the United Nations prior to September 11 and were fortunate the Secretary General and his advisors decided to continue with the documentary. Mendelson Forman said although the United States and the United Nations have experienced friction, the relationship is improving and is due in great part to the personal diplomatic effort of Annan.

By Anita Sharma, Conflict Prevention Project