Lessons of the Nuclear Age

August 6 and 9 mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. New Day filmmaker Bob Richter shares his thoughts on the continuing legacy of these attacks.

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President Obama with atomic bomb survivor Shigeaki Mori

This past May, I was deeply moved to see President Barack Obama embrace a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack in Hiroshima. The scene of the survivor with the President brought back powerful memories about the city’s attack—the first time an atomic bomb was used to destroy people.

It was only a few years ago that my co-producer Kathleen Sullivan and I had joined survivors in Nagasaki, where the second and last atomic bomb was dropped. Thousands of residents, government officials, and religious leaders gathered collectively to remember what happened in that city at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. At an exhibit at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, where a Japanese-language version of our documentary The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age had premiered a few days earlier, we viewed mangled clocks frozen at that precise moment.

The temperature during the commemoration was so fiercely hot that we draped our necks with ice-cold cloths that had been passed around the large outdoor tent where we were sitting.  Hardly worth complaining about, as the temperature from the detonated bomb was several thousand degrees, instantly incinerating an estimated 70,000 men, women, and children. A bell tolled at 11:02 a.m. at the Peace Park—Nagasaki’s Ground Zero—and we stood silently to pay tribute to the moment that forever changed history.

I met many atomic bomb survivors while Kathleen and I were producing The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age. Our film finally came to settle on the remarkable testimony and life of Sakue Shimohira, who at the age of ten was left to hide in a Nagasaki shelter when the bomb dropped. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Sakue describes her sister’s suicide ten years after the end of World War II. While her sister found “the courage to die,” Shimohira-san found “the courage to live” and has since dedicated her life to abolishing nuclear weapons. We follow her in the company of two Japanese students as they talk with students in London, New York and Nagasaki. We also see her in a gripping encounter with a Holocaust survivor.

Our film strives to cast new light on events that are too easily relegated to a tragic segment of history. We show how there were US military leaders that challenged the belief that Nagasaki was essential for military victory—a prevailing belief that even I had bought into before the making of the film. Through a highly regarded Japanese journalist, we learn about the Press Code imposed by the U.S. occupation government, that for years prohibited him and other members of Japan’s media from reporting on the bomb or its health effects. And we also touch upon the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, a U.S. agency that gathered data from thousands of survivors and sent that data to the U.S.—not Japan—and did not attempt to ameliorate the health problems of the survivors.

Other films in the New Day collection also touch upon the costs of living in a nuclear age. In the Academy Award-winning documentary Deadly Deception, filmmaker Deborah Chasnoff juxtaposes GE’s rosy “We Bring Good Things To Life” commercials with true stories of workers and neighbors whose lives have been devastated by GE’s involvement in building nuclear bombs. It tells a powerful story of how consumer activists can challenge corporations causing harm.

In How To Prevent A Nuclear War, Liane Brandon takes a refreshingly upbeat and compelling look at the kinds of activities that Americans engage in to lessen the threat of nuclear war, whether it be visiting their local representative or starting a Concert for Peace. It is a film about grassroots democracy in action, featuring unforgettable vignettes of people working for peace in their communities.

In our film The Ultimate Wish, a nuclear expert explains that there is a strong, but rarely mentioned, link between nuclear weaponry and nuclear power, and we briefly document the burgeoning movements to end both. One of our characters Takako Shishido, who was living in Fukushima at the time of the March 2011 nuclear power plants’ triple meltdowns, tells us what happened and what she would like to see happen now.  Filmmaker Suzan Beraza similarly takes a look at the impact of using nuclear energy in America in her critically acclaimed documentary Uranium Drive-In. The film follows a proposed uranium mill in Colorado—the first to be built in the U.S. in 30 years—and the debate pitting a population desperate for jobs and financial stability against an environmental group based in a nearby resort town. Without judgment, both sides of the issue are brought to life in heart-wrenching detail as the film follows conflicting visions for the future. The film offers no easy answers but aims instead to capture personal stories and paint a portrait of the lives behind this nuanced and complex issue.

I have made several different films covering nuclear issues since the 1970s and the threats are still very much with us. Today, nine countries in the world possess at least a total of 15,375 nuclear weapons, each many times more destructive than the two used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States seeks to monitor and decrease nuclear arms in other countries, as it simultaneously works to modernize its own stockpile. While new vital concerns justifiably dominate our media headlines, learning and remembering nuclear history is fundamental to our existence. We cannot ignore the voices demanding the ultimate wish: ending the nuclear age.

3 New Day Films Stream for Free in Response to the Orlando Tragedy

By Briar March

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A National Tragedy

On June 12, 2016, an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became the worst mass shooting in modern US history. For three filmmakers at New Day, the tragic massacre was deeply personal. Having worked previously on films about hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community, they felt compelled to take immediate steps to engage others in discussions about homophobia and the process of healing.

When New Day member Tami Gold heard of the attacks, she was devastated. She writes, “It was a heart-wrenching reminder of the escalating levels of violence gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people face throughout the United States.” For Gold, the incident brought back painful memories of a hate crime that she had documented in her film Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town. Co-directed with David Pavlovsky, the film documents the impact of a 2006 shooting in a LGBTQ bar in New Bedford called Puzzles. The young perpetrator attempted to shoot three bar patrons and later killed himself and two others. Gold and Pavlovsky purposefully include a wide range of voices – from members of the perpetrator’s radical gang, to victims and their families, as well as gay and straight patrons of the bar. These multiple perspectives viewed over several years allow Puzzles to reveal how a culture of hate and fear can eventually lead to violent acts.

After the Orlando tragedy, Gold decided to make her film available for free online. She says the broad reach achieved, including two local broadcasts and several media interviews, has been very encouraging. Gold has also invited audiences to share their responses on her website and Facebook pages. She explains,

“If there was ever a time to tackle this crisis, it is now, and we want to be part of this discussion.”

Viewers have expressed immense gratitude: “Watching Puzzles was the antidote to the sense of despair I felt,” says one woman on Gold’s Vimeo page. Another remarks, “I still hurt over the people murdered in Orlando, but it helps me to talk about this with friends everywhere… it’s a great way to generate a conversation.”

Another New Day film that explores the impact of hate crimes on a community is New Day member Beverly Seckinger’s documentary Laramie Inside Out. In it, Seckinger returns to her hometown to make sense of the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was brutally beaten and left to die in 1998. The murder put Laramie into the media spotlight and sparked a nationwide debate. As Seckinger confronts her own closeted youth in Laramie, she interviews different community members. While the “God-hates-fags” Westboro Baptist Church continues to condemn Shepard and all LBGTQ people, Seckinger is heartened to see that many people have started speaking out and taking action.

“I realized then that a history lesson was in order, and that my film might provide some desperately needed perspective and inspiration.”

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“Angel Action” activists take flight in Laramie, Wyoming

While Puzzles and Laramie Inside Out document the aftermath of LGBTQ hate crimes on communities, Yun Suh’s film City of Borders provides a hopeful message about peace and unity. Set inside the only gay bar in Jerusalem, Suh introduces us to five Israeli and Palestinian patrons who have found common ground and a sense of community.

Shortly after 9/11, Suh noticed a growing trend in the media to demonize Muslims, who were often depicted as violent fanatics. Compelled to show another perspective, Suh chose to follow Israeli Palestinians who are proud to be gay and Muslim. She writes, “I was so inspired by the courage of the young people who chose to break the cycle of hatred and violence that they were taught and chose to love and laugh in spite of all the threats that surrounded them just outside their sanctuary.”  

In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, Suh was struck by the media’s focus on the gunman’s alleged connections to terrorism and radical extremism. She notes, “The Orlando tragedy surfaced the widespread Islamophobia and xenophobia that exists in this country. When the shooter, Omar Mateen, was identified as Muslim, the mainstream media and politicians were quick to push their anti-Islam bias and label this massacre as an act of terrorism rather than a hate crime.”

Amidst all the incendiary headlines and rhetoric, City of Borders provides a voice of reason, reminding viewers that it is possible for a community to find peaceful connections despite war and differences in religion and ideology. As with Gold’s and Seckinger’s films, there is still a chance to take action and inspire social change. Suh writes,

“There is far greater power and beauty in our diversity and unity that remains untapped.”

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Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike find refuge in a bar in Jerusalem

While many of us are still trying to recover from Orlando’s tragedy, these three powerful films offer up a glimmer of hope. From now until September 1, view them online for free. Simply click on the appropriate film below, add a 3-day streaming license to your shopping cart, and apply the following promo code:  NEWS716.

Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town

Laramie Inside Out

City of Borders

Learn more about the rest of New Day’s award-winning LGBT titles here. And for ideas on how to teach LGBT issues in the classroom, have a look at this excellent blog post by New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm.