If Oppenheimer has left you wanting to find out more about nuclear history, look no further. We've rounded up a list of docs to watch to learn more about Cold War politics and the legacy of the atomic bomb, two of which will show at DocHouse in the coming weeks.
Richland / Irene Lusztig / 2023 / USA / 93 mins
You’ve heard of Los Alamos, but have you heard of Richland? A city built in the early 1940s to house workers at the nearby nuclear site, where they manufactured the plutonium used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
Today, many residents of Richland are proud of its heritage as a nuclear company town, and proud of the part they played in creating the bomb. Irene Lusztig’s beautifully poised observation of Richland makes no hasty judgments on the residents of a town that stakes its identity on this little-known atomic origin story. At a time when the nuclear threat remains a clear and present danger, it is a sobering yet lyrical reminder for us to learn from the violence of the past.
A sensitive portrait of the American Dream and the fallout of a nuclear legacy.
The Hollywood Reporter
American: An Odyssey to 1947 / Danny Wu / Canada / 102 mins
One for the film buffs, American: An Odyssey to 1947 dives deep into 1940s America, when a young Orson Welles is propelled to Hollywood greatness against the backdrop of the Manhattan Project, the stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement and the start of the Cold War.
This expertly-crafted documentary maps out the events of this momentous era as they intersect with Welles’ journey from star of the Hollywood studios to persona non grata, squarely in the sights of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.
Showing at Bertha DocHouse from Friday 25 August. Book here.
A Compassionate Spy / Steve James / USA / 2023 / 101 mins
Shining the spotlight on a lesser-known figure in atomic bomb history, A Compassionate Spy tells the story of Ted Hall, a brilliant young nuclear physicist who was recruited to the Manhattan Project at the age of 18.
After becoming increasingly concerned over the way the US were handling the nuclear project, Hall began secretly passing information to the Soviet Union. After the war, Ted Hall met his wife Joan, and shared with her the explosive secret of his espionage. The pair lived for 50 years together under a cloud of suspicion and surveillance, before Ted decided to reveal all.
Two-time Oscar nominee Steve James’ nuanced documentary reveals the twists and turns of this real-life spy story, its profound impact on nuclear history, and the couple’s remarkable love and life together during more than 50 years of marriage.
★★★★★ - This first-rate portrait gets intimate with an atomic-age Edward Snowden, all the better to cast a long shadow.
Radio Bikini / Robert Stone / USA / 1987 / 56 mins
An award-winning and Oscar-nominated film that documents the nuclear tests performed around a remote Pacific atoll called Bikini during Operation Crossroads in 1946, and their effects on the indigenous population and American servicemen involved.
Using rare and mostly never-before-seen archival footage, the film unfolds through the eyes of the elderly chief of the Bikinians, Kilon Bauno, and a former American serviceman, John Smitherman, who was there.
As the drama of this bizarre experiment unfolds, we witness glimpses of the US Government’s never-completed attempt to produce a propaganda film about it. Ultimately, Radio Bikini is an allegorical portrait of a naive world at the dawn of a new era.
Watch the full film here.
The Day the Sun Fell / Aya Domenig / Switzerland / 2015 / 79 mins
With critics of Oppenheimer lamenting the lack of Japanese perspectives in the film, The Day the Sun Fell studies the consequences of the nuclear bomb in Japan, as told through the filmmaker’s own family history.
Swiss-Japanese filmmaker Aya Domenig, the granddaughter of a doctor on duty for the Red Cross during the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, approaches the experience of her deceased grandfather by tracing the lives of a doctor and of former nurses who once shared the same experience. While gathering the memories and present views of these very last survivors, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima strikes and history seems to repeat itself.
Find out more here.
A sincere film, a reflection of a wounded country that, nevertheless, is looking to heal itself, slowly but tirelessly.
The Atomic Cafe / Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty / USA / 1982 / 88 mins
Drawing from over 10,000 hours of archive footage, The Atomic Cafe paints a darkly comic portrait of how misinformation and propaganda was used by the US government and popular culture to ease fears about nuclear weapons among the American public.
Without using any narration, this 1982 cult classic juxtaposes Cold War history, propaganda, music and culture, seamlessly crafted from government-produced educational and training films, newsreels and advertisements to draw attention to the contradictions marking this time period.
Watch the full film on YouTube.