My first visit to the Paley Center for Media Sunday night left me feeling ambiguous. I thought I was going to a fancy, red carpet event featuring political celebrities and lots of press contacts at a sophisticated, exclusive Cold War documentary-screening event.
At least I was right on some counts.
The screening did have a red carpet and there were political celebrities there, namely Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger. But the event was still not what I expected. It was meant to celebrate the DVD re-release of CNN’s 1998 24-hour documentary, Cold War. There was going to be a short screening of the series and a panel discussion with Ted Turner, director, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, executive producer, and Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union. This was all by invitation only, so the crowd was very exclusive and rather small.
My main problem was that the event was very unorganized and the staff unhelpful. This was supposed to be an important event for the Paley Center, and yet nobody there seemed to know what was going on. The main waiting lobby was filled with staff and volunteers standing around, but none of them could answer even basic questions about the event. Is the panel discussion set to be before or after the screening? How long is the screening going to be? No one knew.
I also inquired about speaking with the woman listed as the main media contact on the event’s press release. The woman working the press check-in said she had no idea who that person was. You would think she would have read the information listed on the center’s own press release about the event she was working at, but clearly she had not. After being given at least five different names of appropriate people to talk to regarding my questions, and after having each one subsequently proven inaccurate, I gave up trying to get any information.
Those grievances aired out, the one thing I enjoyed from the evening was the panel discussion.
It was very interesting to hear Ted Turner and Jeremy Isaacs discuss the series and why they felt so compelled to tell this particular story. It was clear that both men are passionate about history and were passionate about making this documentary.
“For the first time, we were in the position to end life on earth, and we avoided it, much to our credit. That needed to be recorded,” Turner said.
Turner also said this history needed to be recorded for younger generations, so that no one- even those who didn’t live through it- forgets how close this world was to disaster. In the making of the documentary, I learned that Turner and his team edited down over 10,000 hours of original video footage, plus hours or archived footage never before seen by international audiences. They also used interviews from over 600 world leaders – I was very impressed.
The best panel contributor was of course Mr. Gorbachev. Gorbachev spoke in length on his perspective of the Cold War and on the state of Russia today. He spoke more than the other two panelists, but his personal experience as leader of the USSR gave him the greatest authority to do so. His different perspective on the war- he said the U.S. was a difficult negotiating partner that didn’t always keep its promises- was actually refreshing to hear.
Gorbachev also shared his opinions on the state of international relations today, and his worry about continued nuclear tensions. The fact that nuclear weapons still exist could reinvigorate an arms war, he said. “Once again we see the threat of militarization. But I think the militarization of peoples’ minds is the most dangerous thing.” I definitely agree.
Gorbachev’s insights and comments were a great contribution to the evening, as were Turner’s and Isaacs’. I must admit that despite my earlier frustrations, I am very glad I got to see them speak about this important time in history. It was well worth it.
Photos by Mark Byron/Michael Priest Photography