After two months as a camera operator in the UN General Assembly hall in Geneva…

By richard | 11 September 2007

A tall slender woman was sitting on a chair by the podium where her husband was delivering a presentation to a hall filled with people. Each group of four people had a white board in front and on this board was the name of the deleguation. Canada, USA, France, Lithuania and more. In the balconies NGO names could be spotted. The location is the general assembly hall in Geneva and the occasion is Abdullah Il bin an Hussein the second of Jordan speaking to all these deleguations. I was the cut away camera and I was told to focus on cut away shots.

This took place on my second year of working for the International Labour Conference, general meeting of the International Labour Organisation. My job during this time was to cover the plenary sessions. Whenever a deleguation requested for their presentation to covered  I had to be there and record it, either on VHS or Beta, depending on what the client wanted.

When the ILC began you would always find every seat was filled but as breakout sessions took place so the general assembly hall would empty. You would find only three or four deleguations at a time and quite often you would spot them leaning back in their chair with a beige object over one of their ears. This was the simultaneous translation. Quite often the deleguate would have both eyes closed. Was he sleeping or focusing on what was being said. I’m not sure.

You can see diplomacy in action in such halls. Occasionally there would be an important person speaking and many other deleguations would come and listen. Once the speaker finished talking everyone would get out of their seat and go and congratulate them on their great oratory and the things they had brought up. Some of these speakers did deserve the praise but most of the time they speak in droning monotonous voices, hence the closed eyes I described earlier.

Occasionaly I would get something fun to do like press conferences. There are two press conference rooms where i might have gone. Room 1 and 4. Room 1 is an informal room with tables and the personality would speak at the head. Each of these rooms had a breakout box so that placing a microphone was not necessary. Room 4 is one you have seen many times in news items from Geneva. That’s the room with the blue UN logo repeated over and over again. Above is a mural. The drawback to working at the UN is the long corridors you walk down to get from place to place. When you’ve got a camera, two batteries, a tripod and two or three tapes you’re lugging quite a bit of wheight. Add the summer heat and you see why it’s not to everyone’s liking. Personally i miss it.

Once the press conferences were over I’d head back to the general assembly hall and sit through ten more plenary speeches. Occasionaly i would take the camera and the tripod and walk around the room getting cut away shots. That’s quite fun. You look at people and you see what they’re doing. You isolate people. You see a person writing something down, you get a shot of that, someone else yawning you get that. If someone is focusing on the speaker you get that. In certain cases you get shots of the deleguate and the board saying which country they represent. Other times you’d get a behind the shoulder shot looking up at the speaker.

There are some press conferences that are emotional than others. I remember taking one of the nicer cameras and recording a press conference about slavery. During that event some experts talked about the situation in certain countries before getting to the special guest. One of these guests started to talk and described her ordeal, how she had left her country of origin only to end up as a slave in a western country and how she was never allowed to leave. Hearing someone speak about this and not having a television screen or monitor to separate you from their reality has a powerful effect.  Such occasions take certain things from being abstract to reality.

When I went to Tanzania I was one year away from completing the IB and I saw such a different way of life that I wanted to stay there. I was impressed by the improvisation and happiness of those children. I also liked having to walk for fourty minutes through banana plantations and fields to get from one place to another and experience their culture, at least fleetingly. If there’s anyone reading this that needs to cover the humanitarian work that they are doing to bring awareness to their work then let me know and I’d love to be part of those expeditions.

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