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A SMOOTH DOCUMENTARY; NO EYE OF ANY STORM

1/15/2003

"Kofi Annan: In the Eye of the Storm" was the title of a documentary recently shown in New York on Public Television. It was funded by CocaCola and the United Nations Foundation, known internally as the Ted Turner Fund. Some would say it was long on ceremony and short on substance. But that was what its target audience would want -- picturesque scenes, not heavy debates. Brian Urquhart gave it a sense of authority in his carefully couched remarks. Fred Eckart, Nadia Younes, and Elizabeth Lindenmayer provided professional atmosphere. Independence celebration in East Timor displayed vividly a U.N. success story, while the Nobel Prize Oslo ceremony highlighted a personal as well as organizational achievement. A shot of Ed Mortimer dozing off during a preparatory gathering and another of him dancing with a much shorter woman in an almost empty piste injected a spot of humour. Timely praise by Richard Holbrooke who appeared with his wife as the Secretary-General's guests in Oslo, was to the point. The warmth of Nane Annan came across naturally as she was introducing her husband to curious children.

Repeated pontification by William Shawcross, described as author, seemed embarrassingly overdone. He once had unlimited access to the Secretary-General in producing a flattering book; yet in the documentary he sounded more important than Kofi Annan, who indeed appeared as the most modest. Mr. Shawcross is one of a London-based group now spreading in New York which claims that they were instrumental in placing Kofi Annan; new items appearing nonchalantly at regular intervals since earlier this year may indicate that they are warming up to help place his successor.

A favourable documentary on the Secretary-General to an American audience was timely and appropriate. Little was shown of the workings of the United Nations, but you take what you can get. Kofi Annan could have been portrayed as more brilliantly dealing hands-on with many world crises rather than merely consulting with his aides in endless rooms or chatting on an airplane. There must have been some wisdom behind that evasion.

The top man is always open to advice from those around him. And you get what you have. The program was as smooth and tranquil as its announced subject. Despite the absence of any storm, political or otherwise, it managed to display the calm and confidence of Kofi Annan.