(DO NOT) LOOK AT THE FLASH
The atomic bomb in documentary cinema
“Do not look at the ﬂash”. This advice was featured in a British brochure published in the Sixties and it was meant to prevent sightloss during the explosion of an atomic bomb. This brochure was full of tips designed to prepare the population for a nuclear attack, and is full of meaning about the disaster and its perspective as well as the attempts to diminish its consequences.
This perspective has resulted in an imaginary world, heavily used, transformed and questioned in many major ﬁction ﬁlms; documentary ﬁlms, however, allowed other perspectives both in their contents and their forms. Discovering them will sharpen our perception….we will then be able to have a closer look at the ﬂash.
When nuclear weapons are making the headlines again (have they ever ceased to be in the news?), in an international context where some nations are governed by unpredictable and unscrupulous people and where economic interests prevail over ethics, it seemed important to us to remind people of the many challenges presented by the world’s biggest weapon of mass destruction, starting with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are dramatically recalled in No More Hiroshima, Wähle das Leben and Prophecy.
Peter Watkins’ ﬁlm saga The Journey analyses the consequences, persistence and resurgence whilst addressing broader subjects : the nuclear arms race, military expenses, destruction of the environment and mostly the role played by the media and the shortcomings of the education system with respect to the geopolitical context.
The 26 ﬁlms featured in our selection allow us to explore these subjects further.
With the invention of the atomic bomb the dangers linked to scientiﬁc knowledge reach new heights (Le Savoir Dangereux); nuclear testing threatens entire populations (in Herbrich’s and Leuvrey’s ﬁlms); nuclear arms are proliferating constantly (Peter Greenaway) in spite of opposition from anti-war movements (Karel Reisz, Anand Patwardhan); according to Gunther Anders (“Hiroshima is everywhere” session) humanity is entering a new era and is now capable of self-destruction.
Belgium is also involved with the atomic bomb: in his ﬁlm, Snake Dance, Manu Riche informs us that uranium extracted in the Belgian Congo was one of the components of the “Little Boy” bomb which destroyed Hiroshima and killed 200,000 people…
The American people have a different approach the subject: experimental work makes it easier to feel the anguish caused by the Cold War (Lipsett, Meyers): The Atomic Cafe recycle propaganda ﬁlms, both hilarious and scary; in Missile Frederick Wiseman shows us live the young bomb operators in action, their discipline and their ideology.