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‘Wake Up World’: Vanessa Redgrave documentary traces UNICEF’s history

© UNICEF/ HQ01-0251/Leighton
Vanessa Redgrave sits with Kamo Masilo, 12, of South Africa during one of her many journeys as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

By David Koch

NEW YORK, USA, 7 December 2006 – Vanessa Redgrave is widely considered one of the finest actors of her generation. She is equally well known as a passionate activist in the cause of children and an advocate of peace, tolerance and reconciliation. In June 1995, she was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

To mark the 60th anniversary of UNICEF, Ms. Redgrave and her son, London-based documentary filmmaker Carlo Nero, have produced a film celebrating six decades of progress for children. The film, ‘Wake Up World’, traces the illustrious history of UNICEF – from a very personal point of view.

Having lived through World War II herself, she can very well empathize with those children in a destroyed Europe who received humanitarian assistance from the Allied powers, calling themselves the ‘United Nations’.

“I was a child during the Second World War, and while I didn’t share the full horror of what happened to children all over Europe, as well as in Asia, I was nevertheless what is called today a ‘displaced person’. And I took refuge in basements, cellars and underground shelters from the bombing,” Ms. Redgrave recalled.

Putting children first

UNICEF was brought to life in 1946 on a temporary basis, but it soon became clear that millions of children around the world would need help today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. The scope of UNICEF’s mission and geographic reach grew exponentially, always putting children’s needs above politics.

“To be non-political, in other words to put the needs of children and civilians – their mothers, their parents, their families – before any politics whatsoever, I’ve become totally convinced that that’s what’s needed,” said Ms. Redgrave.

© UNICEF/ HQ04-0414/Sabella
Ms. Redgrave shares laughter with members of the UNICEF-supported Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activism in East Jerusalem in 2004.

During production of the film, Ms. Redgrave interviewed UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson and Angélique Kidjo, along with other experts on humanitarian issues, about their individual passion for UNICEF.

“You see the work UNICEF is doing, the commitment of the staff who are with the children – teaching, educating, enabling, getting the spirit of inquiry going in the minds of young people,” said Mr. Fiennes, an Ambassador for the UK Committee for UNICEF.

What makes UNICEF unique

Ms. Redgrave first became involved with UNICEF’s work during the 1991 Gulf War. She organized an event at London’s Royal Albert Hall to raise funds for the children of Iraq and afterwards went on a 72-hour, non-stop tour of the country. This resulted in a compelling film that raised additional funds for children.

The actress has continued her advocacy work in Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Kosovo, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

“I would like the present generation of young people to know how important the United Nations is, how it works or how it’s prevented from working … but how UNICEF always works,” she said. “And that’s what makes UNICEF unique, because it can go in where no other agency can and it can negotiate for all children. And UNICEF is the most priceless, valuable heritage historically we have.”




7 December 2006:
Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Redgrave discusses her feelings about UNICEF’s work to help children worldwide.
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Watch an excerpt from ‘Wake Up World’, the documentary made in honour of UNICEF’s 60th anniversary by Vanessa Redgrave and her son, filmmaker Carlo Nero.
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