Silence isn’t golden for Silver

Times Staff Writer

Actor Ron Silver says he has had fewer movie offers and dinner invitations since he parted political company with his Hollywood colleagues and spoke at the Republican National Convention last year.

But he is sinking his teeth into his new role: conservative activist. Today, Silver will release a documentary on DVD called “Broken Promises,” a scathing criticism of what Silver considers the failures of the United Nations on its 60th anniversary. It follows on the heels of a DVD retort last year by Silver to Michael Moore called “Fahren-hype 911,” carefully named so it would be placed on video store shelves right next to Moore’s anti-Bush documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

“Broken Promises” has at its root the betrayed vision of an idealistic youth from the Lower East Side. Silver grew up in a modest Jewish neighborhood, and his way to escape his parochial world, where everyone was defined by ethnicity and race, he says, was to go to the U.N. and just wander around.

“When I took that bus uptown and I saw those flags lined up on 1st Avenue, it opened up an entirely new world to me,” he said. “There was such a sense of pride I felt.”


But over the years, that pride turned to disappointment, even anger, as he witnessed the U.N. repeatedly fall short of its noble goals, he said. As an actor, Silver’s impulse was to express it through film; as a political junkie who dines with ambassadors and sits on roundtables at the Council on Foreign Relations, he “wanted to be part of the conversation,” he said.

The hourlong DVD begins with the U.N.'s creation of Israel in 1948 -- a seminal event that resonated in Silver’s family and neighborhood but also had consequences far into the future.

The film reflects his conviction that the way the U.N. shifted from peacemaker to arbitrator, treating Arabs and Israelis as equals, foreshadows a fatal flaw in the organization’s structure. The U.N. is afraid to take sides, the film says, and doesn’t have the independence to intervene when vital.

The rest of the documentary is a greatest-hits reel of U.N. fiascos: the unfinished partition of Israel and Kashmir, allowing Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia, not intervening in the genocide in Rwanda, the failure to protect Muslims at a U.N. haven in Srebrenica and paralysis over reform demonstrated last week at the U.N.'s 60th anniversary World Summit.


“I wanted to give people some sort of historical context about how the U.N. came into being and to have a point of view about it, not a ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ kind of thing,” Silver said.

Funded in part by the Citizens United Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank, the documentary features interviews with the U.N.'s usual critics.

But it also gets down on the ground with the people who had to carry out the decisions made at the U.N.'s New York headquarters, or were the victims of them. The stories -- and even most of the characters -- in “Broken Promises” are already well known but still shocking.

There are interviews with peacekeepers on the failures of peacekeeping, including Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who wrote the famously ignored “genocide memo” months before nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed, in which he begged for reinforcements. Rwandan survivor Eugenie Mukeshimana appears 10 years later with the daughter she gave birth to in a container while hiding from machete-wielding Hutu killers. Former U.N. translator Hasan Nuhanovic describes how U.N. officers in Srebrenica ordered him to tell his family himself that they must leave the U.N. haven to face death by the Serbs.

One of the most stirring comments comes from Kenneth Cain, a civilian peacekeeper who co-wrote a book titled “Emergency Sex” about what Cain views as U.N. betrayals. It is liberals like him who should be most aggrieved, he says, because it is their ideals that have been most harshly sundered.

Cain’s comments seem to echo Silver’s undertone of personal affront at the injustices he sees as perpetrated by the institution meant to uphold justice and freedom. It is this sense that makes him, as he says, a “progressive conservative,” or “a liberal who is just left of the right of center.” Or, as someone who also believes in gay rights, healthcare and the right to choose, he would rather just dispense with labels altogether.

He crossed the political aisle, Silver says, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reawakened his belief that the United States must use its power to reinforce universal ideals. After being a vocal Democrat, he was suddenly the darling of the right, and in 2004 he spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of President Bush.

“It sounds like a conversion tale, but I was not reborn,” Silver said. “It was fairly consistent with my views in the past. I’ve been a very aggressive liberal interventionist in my foreign policy feelings. I have felt for a long time that the withdrawal of American power was far more dangerous than getting involved.”


But for someone who wants to be part of the conversation, he has found that being a backer of this administration leaves him out of other conversations -- and even movies.

“There have been a few occasions when people have said, ‘I won’t work with that S.O.B.’ It has happened, but on an individual basis. It is not in any way, shape or form a blacklist,” he said. “In this business, there are a million different reasons people don’t want to work with you: You’re too Jewish, you’re not Jewish enough, they want a bigger star, they think you cost too much money. Most people are very economical with the truth out here, so it’s very hard to determine cause and effect.”

But his politics seem to overflow into his work anyway. His most recent film, “Red Mercury,” is about three impeccably born and bred British youths who become jihadists and take seven people hostage with a dirty bomb. The film was shot last January, months before British jihadists with similar origins exploded bombs in London in July. The movie will be released early next year.

Silver is currently shooting episodes for the television series “The West Wing,” in which his character, formerly a Democratic consultant, crosses the aisle to work for the Republican candidate played by Alan Alda.


“Just another case,” he said with a laugh, “of art imitating life.”