Press Briefing


Briefing correspondents this morning on the film “The Interpreter”, Academy Award-winning director Sydney Pollack said he was “terribly excited” to be doing a feature film at the United Nations, a first in the Organization’s history.

Joining Mr. Pollack was Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, who announced that an agreement was signed last Friday authorizing Mr. Pollack to make his film, using United Nations Headquarters.

The Secretary-General took that decision, stated Mr. Tharoor, based on a number of factors, including great regard for Mr. Pollack as an artist, as well as extensive discussions with the director about the film.  It also came following a good look at the script to ensure that the film was not merely using the United Nations as a backdrop, but rather that the location was intrinsic to the story, and that the story was faithful to the values the Organization stood for.

Both speakers stressed that the film was not a propaganda film for the United Nations.  Asked if he was making a “pro-UN” film, Mr. Pollack said it was not his intention, although he was very “pro-UN”, to make a “messagey, propaganda movie”.  He was making a thriller, with two Oscar winners -– Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.  But all films, he noted, were about something.

“The Interpreter” was “synchronous with the values of the UN”, it was very “anti-using violence to settle problems between people and countries”, he stated.  It was his personal view that the Organization was a vital and essential institution.  “It’s imperfect, but the best we have, and the film will reflect that.”

The film, he explained, had two characters, played by Kidman and Penn, who saw life from different points of view.  There was, on the one hand, the interpreter, who worked at the United Nations and believed in the power and sanctity of words.  On the other was a secret service agent, whose job it was to read people based only on behaviour.  She’s overheard a threat against an African head of State.  The story was essentially of the relationship between the agent assigned to protect that head of State and the interpreter.

On whether he would be using any real United Nations officials or ambassadors, Mr. Pollack said that he hoped to, but that was up to the United Nations.  It was necessary to get clarity on how that should be approached.  He had received a lot of interest from various diplomats.

Shooting, he continued, would take a total of 14 weeks.  The entire film cost approximately $80 million, and he hoped to release it during Thanksgiving, in November.  It would be filmed in the General Assembly and the Security Council.  He had already shot scenes in the corridors, on the promenade, in the security tent and the Delegates’ Lobby.

Mr. Tharoor added that he had approached the Presidents of the Assembly and the Council, who had consented to the use of their chambers for filming.  Also, filming would take place, on a closed set, on weekends, nights and public holidays so as not to disrupt the work of the Organization.

Asked if he or the principal actors had ever been to the United Nations prior to shooting the movie, he said he was ashamed to admit that, although he had gone to school in New York, married in New York and lived in New York, he had never been inside the United Nations until the first location scouting trip.  That was also true of both Ms. Kidman and Mr.Penn.

As to any payment the United Nations might receive, Mr. Tharoor stated that the Organization did not see the project as a commercial venture, emphasizing that “the UN was not for hire”.  It was made clear to the filmmakers that all costs incurred, including overtime for security during filming, would be borne by the filmmakers.  In addition, he was sure that the filmmakers would find some tangible way to express their appreciation for the way in which they had been treated at the United Nations.

Mr. Pollack added that he did not come and ask to rent the United Nations.  He would be happy to make an appropriate donation to the Organization or a related-cause.

Noting Mr. Penn’s views regarding the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, a correspondent asked if that was a concern.  Mr. Pollack replied that whether Mr. Penn’s strong positions on the Bush Administration and the war would have anything to do with an audience’s reaction to the film remained to be seen.

Asked if script changes would be subject to a “veto” by the United Nations, Mr. Pollack stated that he could not give away script control, as that would violate too many contracts.  But he had promised that he would not do anything that would make the United Nations unhappy.

The United Nations, added Mr. Tharoor, would have no interest in having a film made that showed the Organization in an inaccurate or unflattering light.  At the same time, it had no interest in telling Mr. Pollack how to make his thrillers.  It was more a question of there being an opportunity for the United Nations to be aware of what was in the script.  If there was something so troubling that the United Nations could not continue its cooperation, then it would be forced to pull the plug.

Mr. Pollack noted that, while he would take certain licences when filming, that did not mean that he would not be authentic to the way the United Nations worked.  Although the script was written about a year ago, it did not deal with the political problems that arose from the war in Iraq.  He anticipated that the film would get an R or PG-13 rating.  He had no reason in the movie, he noted, to be sexually explicit or vulgar with language or use a lot of violence.

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For information media. Not an official record.