Sundance Film Festival

Kristof's Wake-up Call

Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power
Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, is a tireless journalist and advocate for human rights around the word. Me? When I attended a conversation featuring Kristof and Samantha Power at 10:30 this morning, I was just plain tired—I blame the party publicists—and not exactly in the mood to hear about genocide in Darfur or sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Kristof’s mission, of course, is to combat exactly that type of complacency, even if it’s a quiet Sunday morning at the Cinema Café. While some people think he’s too righteous or heavy-handed, you can’t fault his intentions or will. And to my relief he was funny, modest, and even self-critical in person (as when he admitted that critics who say he focuses too much on what’s wrong, rather than on what’s working, “have a pretty good point”).

Referring to his profession as an industry of “dead trees,” Kristof said he feels “like a horse-and-buggy manufacturer watching the Model Ts coming off the line,” or like a precambrian creature crawling from the sea for the first time and “trying to grow feet.”

“I’m partly trying to grow feet with this movie,” he said, referring to REPORTER, a documentary that follows him to Congo as he reports on the conflict and humanitarian crisis there.

“I have the usual scribbler’s skepticism to anything too visual or that might actually entertain people,” he explained. “If I want to connect with new audiences, then this is a format I have to experiment with.”

Power is the author of Chasing the Flame, a biography of the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and special envoy to Iraq who was killed by a suicide bomber and the subject of the documentary SERGIO. She had similar worries about the future of print journalism. A newspaper smudge is, to her students at the Harvard Kennedy School, “a foreign concept—like Jordache jeans.”

Kristof and Power might still be ambivalent about branching out into film, but the positive buzz surrounding both REPORTER and SERGIO suggests that many filmgoers will be glad the two journalists did so.

See some clips from Kristof’s “experiment” below:

And watch our interview with the director of SERGIO, one of the truly moving documentaries at this year’s Festival: