One-on-One Q&A: Rory O'Connor - "The Battle of Durban II"
Rory O’Connor, Director/Producer/Writer
Tomorrow night, November 17 at 6:30pm, will be the first of two screenings of Rory O’Connor’s documentary, “The Battle of Durban II,” at the New York Tolerance Center in New York City. An encore will take place on Wednesday, December 2 at 6:30pm.
The Film Panel Notetaker conducted the following One-on-One Q&A with director/producer/writer Rory O’Connor, who is the co-founder and president of the international media firm Globalvision, Inc, and Board Chair of The Global Center, an affiliated non-profit foundation. “The Battle of Durban II” was produced by Gerald Barad, edited by Linda Hattendorf, and Eric Forman served as supervising producer.
“The Battle of Durban II” takes a deep look and analysis of the history and effects of the United Nations World Conference on Racism and Discrimination that was held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. What was meant to be a diplomatic dialogue against racism and discrimination throughout the world, was overshadowed by a nearby Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) forum where some protesters equated Zionism (the belief that Jews should have their own homeland) with racism, labeling Israel a racist, apartheid state. World leaders and members of Jewish organizations were outraged by this behavior, calling it anti-Semitic. In 2009, the UN held a follow-up conference in Geneva, Switzerland, dubbed “Durban II.”
What starts as an educational documentary on the circumstances surrounding the 2001 Durban conference as told through stock footage, narration and interviews with the people on both sides of the issues, becomes a gripping and suspenseful fly-on-the-wall drama as the filmmaker gains access into the proceedings that took place at the Durban Review Conference in 2009 in Geneva.
TFPN: What brought about your interest in the UN Conferences on Racism & Discrimination, and why did you choose this as the subject of a documentary?
O’ Conner: I have a longstanding interest and lots of experience in covering human rights, racism and intolerance-related issues, including having helped create and manage Globalvision's two weekly international television news magazines devoted to those topics -- South Africa Now, and Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television. I have also been involved in the production of more than two-dozen documentary films. Finally, I have done a lot of work for various UN-associated groups, including UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, the DPI, UNIFEM, UNESCO and others -- as well as covering the UN itself for decades.
I thought that looking at the UN and the related issues of racism and discrimination, through the prism of the two World Conferences on Racism and Discrimination that book ended the first decade of this century, would help us to understand why there hasn't been more progress in these areas – and yield some insight into how the relentless focus on Israel and Palestine at that world body -- while perhaps understandable -- is also to some extent standing in the way.
TFPN: Did you get to travel to both of these conferences, and what was it like to physically be there among all the tension that ensued?
O’Connor: Although I have covered South Africa for years (see above) and visited there, I was not in attendance at the 2001 UN World Conference on Racism held in Durban. We did attend this year's Durban review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.Judging from the footage we acquired of the Durban conference, I guess I would say that in many respects I'm glad NOT to have been there, since the tone of much of the NGO Forum (if not the UN Conference itself) seems to have been so negative. But I can say that being in Geneva for weeks this spring was an amazing experience in many ways -- from the many unofficial events offered by both pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist groups that we covered; to the UN conference itself, with the tumult associated with the speech given by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinjead (see the film's promotional trailer: http://www.durbanii.com/); all the way to the emotional demonstrations and protests staged by the many other NGO groups, such as the Darfuris, Dalits and Tamils, who vocalized their feelings that the world simply isn't listening to them and their cries.Despite the tension you allude to -- and it was very much there in Geneva as well as apparently at Durban -- it still felt good to be able to give voice in some small way to the voiceless victims of racism and discrimination who had journeyed to both the 2001 Durban conference and the 2009 Geneva conference in hopes of getting some attention if not actual relief for their suffering!
TFPN: You do a great job outlining the history, the issues, and the people involved with these conferences in a relatively objective, journalistic way, showing all sides of the matter. How do you personally feel about the issue? Did these conferences do any good in terms of combating racism, or were they merely something that fueled further anti-Semitic sentiments?
O’ Conner: Personally I agree with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that more space must be created for, and more voice given to, the NGOs and representatives of civil society who were largely excluded from the proceedings in Geneva. I also agree with her assessment that something must be done soon to break the logjam at the UN over the Middle East, since issues relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict take up so much oxygen at the world body that it is rendered extremely difficult -- if not impossible-- to make needed progress in other areas, such as the situation in Darfur, or that concerning the 260 million Dalits, or 'outcastes" in South Asia, for example.
As to the question of how much good the conferences do in combating racism,the jury is still out, but I think any fair assessment would lead to the conclusion that they would do a lot more good if they didn't regularly and predictably devolve into protracted arguments over Israel and Palestine. Certainly it is an issue of concern to the world -- but equally certainly, it isn't the ONLY issue that should be examined, to the exclusion of others...
TFPN: What are your prospects for your film? Are there any particular film festivals you're targeting, and distribution outlooks?
O’Connor: We are now in discussions with various sales representatives and distributors, and will make a deal soon with one of them for global television distribution, as well as DVD sales and educational distribution. Globalvision's previous films have aired in literally dozens of countries around the world, and we hope to have similar success with this film, including airing in Israel, Iran and elsewhere in the Middle Eastern region.
Although the film's content is controversial -- since the topic itself is highly so -- we did our level best to give voice to all "sides" of the issues raised, including interviewing UN Ambassadors from Israel and Iran, as well as numerous Palestinians and their supporters, other Israelis and their supporters, human rights experts, and leading diplomats from countries as varied as the United States, France, South Africa, Canada, and Russia.
TFPN: What are you working on next?
O'Connor: I'm just beginning production on a follow-up film called 'The Obama Doctrine,' which will look at the new American president's first year in office and the steps he has taken and may yet take to re-engage with the world, return to a multi-lateral foreign policy, and reach out to Islam -- while in the process beginning to upset the established order in the Middle East -- and perhaps even open a new path to peace in the region.