Vanessa Redgrave Calls United Nations Reps "Dead" and "Dehumanized"

Fabrizio Maltese
Vanessa Redgrave

The accomplished actress makes her directorial debut with the refugee documentary 'Sea Sorrow.'

Vanessa Redgrave makes her directorial debut with the documentary Sea Sorrow, her first-person call for governments to come to the aid of the child refugees flooding Europe.

The accomplished actress chose film as the medium to deliver this message because “the arts can help rehumanize people who have been damaged and dehumanized for whatever reason,” she told reporters after a New York Film Festival press screening. “Not all, but most of the people in the U.N. are dead. I respect the U.N., I will fight for its existence and for its historical role and for the conventions under the name of the United Nations. I will fight for the lives involved in that history, the dead lives as well as the current lives. But the majority are dead — they were chosen to be their country’s representatives because they are dead. Sorry, that’s my view.

“Film is one of the arts — although treated like a prostitute most of the time, but it is an art — that can help people communicate and get rehumanized,” she continued. “It’s very hard — politicians who have been dehumanized don’t want to be rehumanized, I’ve noticed.”

Redgrave hopes the film, which also includes appearances by Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson, helps viewers have compassion for the displaced people onscreen. “Do you realize how close we are? It could be us. What will we do if we are treated the way our country has treated other families? … That can happen so easily and so quickly,” she explained. “Do people have imaginations? People don’t have time for imaginations. … Film, like theater, can. It doesn’t impose, it can help people stop reacting and start thinking.”

Though the call for empathy on the global refugee crisis may seem familiar to many, “there’s no such thing as preaching to the converted, because the converted can deconvert like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. “Life’s like that, and we better not get dumbly despairing because life is like that. Life is like that and we’ve got to try again.”

Despite her longtime efforts in the human rights sector, don’t call Redgrave an “activist," as she prefers the term “campaigner" instead. “Activists are wonderful people, and then they disappear. The trouble is they were content and others were content for them just to be active and not think. Now that can sound like an impossible contradiction, but believe me it’s very possible,” she explained. “I went through two period where I was gonna give up. Thinking and studying helped me regain a strength that I have not lost.”