Stories from the Field, the United Nations Documentary Film Festival, was a wonderful project that burned brightly and educated many for the three-plus years we were able to sustain it. Each festival began with an opening night reception and award ceremony, followed by two days of film screenings, panel discussions, and workshops.
The festival idea was born at a 2004 meeting between the former New York Chapter of the Media Communications Association International (MCAINY) and the United Nations. It was just another one of our monthly member events. No one dreamed where it would lead.
The MCAINY event committee, always looking to create interesting activities for the members, thought they would enjoy learning about the media communication operation at the United Nations, in particular how such a large and politically-charged organization managed its PR messaging. We were excited when the committee was able to arrange a private tour and briefing with the UN’s Department of Public Information (UNDPI).
Revealed: An Inside Look at the UN
A rare look inside the communications infrastructure of the world’s largest non-governmental organization. The United Nations operates and cooperates in a staggering number of programs, conferences, commissions, and funds worldwide. Every day, its program leaders face the challenge of communicating with the governments, institutions, and citizens of over 175 countries. Go with us behind the scenes to see how they do it. (April 2004)
The briefing was a revelation. Some 40 MCAINY members met with then-UNDPI chief Ramu Damodaran and his staff to discuss the challenges of communicating effectively in the world of the endless news cycle. MCAINY had its own challenges creating relevant programming for an increasingly diverse membership. Ideas and suggestions flew in all directions.
We were astonished to learn how much media UNDPI had produced — some of it feature-length films — about the various humanitarian projects run by the United Nations and its various agencies. Yet most of it had never been screened before a public audience. We were all familiar with the negative publicity about the UN, but we knew little about the hundreds of humanitarian projects taking place all over the world, run by unsung heroes making a real difference in real people’s lives. We thought a film festival could help to bring “the other UN” into focus.
As an organization of producers, directors, writers, camera operators — in short, production people — we knew how to make it happen. It took months for the negotiations and paperwork to wend their way through the UN labyrinth, but by November 2004 the project was approved. We pulled out our spreadsheets and got to work.
The timing was perfect. The United Nations was celebrating its 60th anniversary and promoting its newly established Millennium Development Goals. We decided the festival’s theme would be the MDGs and that any competing film would need to reflect one or more of the eight goals to qualify.