Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Years After a Festival Run, ‘U.N. Me’ Filmmakers Take a DIY Path to a Theatrical Release

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The 2009 documentary "U.N. Me" comes to theaters, VOD and cable-on-demand starting June 1, 2012.

After trumpeting the self-distribution schemes and dreams of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady with Detropia, I was hit with a deluge of messages from filmmakers considering the same route. Crowdfunding is certainly having its moment.

I couldn’t help notice that Ami Horowitz and Matt Groff, two filmmakers I met a little while back, are just about to self-release their 2009 documentary U.N. Me, in theaters and on VOD this Friday (June 1). It’s taken a long time, but they’ve raised the money to release the film themselves.

More than three years ago, I sat down in an apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and watched their nearly completed film. Horowitz and Groff had asked me to check it out. The film was rough around the edges, and I was a little annoyed by the subject matter — a critique of the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. I was more disappointed by their attempt to use Michael Moore’s tactics of humor and gotcha interviews to prove a point.

And yet, I still admired the filmmakers’ pluck. And the truth is, the U.N. could be better. But how to go about that — the body is ultimately toothless — seems like the real issue. Perhaps U.N. Me can be a part of the dialectic to a more effective world-governing body. Here’s an edited discussion with Groff about the film.

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Doc Soup Man: What kind of a release is the film getting?

Matt Groff, U.N. Me: The film is getting a day-and-date release this Friday, June 1, 2012, which translates into 10 theatrical markets around the country (New York, Los Angeles, West Palm Beach, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Colorado Springs, Chicago, Phoenix and Arlington, VA, right outside D.C.). We’re also premiering at the same time on cable-on-demand and digital outlets. I think we’ve got something like 85% of the nation covered through Time Warner, Comcast, Cox and DirecTV. Unfortunately, our digital distributor, ARC Entertainment, doesn’t have arrangements with Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, AT&T U-verse or Dish Network, so we were unable to get access to those systems.

For the 15% we don’t have covered, we have the Internet, where we will be on YouTube (paid), iTunes and PlayStation Network. I’m particularly excited about iTunes because I think a lot of people, at least that I know, feel comfortable buying video content there.

After the release of his current film, Groff is kicking around two short films he hopes to finish soon, and a feature he hopes to start. He’s enthusiastic about the Kickstarter wave that Grady and Ewing, among others, are riding:

I’m really excited about the idea of crowdfunding films. Sean Dunne (The Archive), who I respect a lot as a filmmaker, just pitched a feature on Kickstarter and he’s 20% of the way to his goal after only a few days. I think many filmmakers are finding success through this new mechanism and if you can take the right kind of project to Kickstarter, for example, you can launch a film and build a relationship with your audience at the same time.

How would you describe the current political climate and awareness of the U.N., and how the film can contribute to the dialogue?

I think that the current awareness of the U.N. is pretty low, even today. First of all, domestic issues, most notable the economy, are dominating the presidential campaign and so foreign policy is less of a focus than in years past. It’s obvious that we still look to the U.N. to provide a global leadership role, as in Syria, a good example from the present, but that we don’t have a good idea what to expect from them.

In our experience, many people have a benign notion of the U.N. as an institution that should be shining a spotlight on abuses around the world but they don’t realize it’s often countries like Sudan or Iran that are controlling where the spotlight is pointed (Iran on the Committee for the Status of Women comes to mind as a good example). I think the film will show many people that the benign notion of the U.N. is wrong and that its original intent is being thwarted on a daily basis. Ultimately, it will ask them to consider what we as global citizens should expect from this institution and what steps could be taken to bring it back in line with its original ideals and goals.

U.N. Me opens in theaters on Friday, June 1, 2012, and is available on VOD and cable-on-demand. For show times and more ways to watch, visit unmemovie.com.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki