Tonight, the work of the 1352nd Photographic Squadron —known as the “Atomic Cinematographers” — will be given its first-ever public recognition, beginning at 7 p.m. at the American Film Institute’s Mark Goodson Theatre.
Organized by filmmaker Peter Kuran in conjunction with the departments of Energy and Defense, the event will bring together some two dozen people who worked on the project for an evening of reflection and to screen selections from its 6,500-film output.
Lookout Mountain Studio in Hollywood, aka the 1352nd Photographic Squadron, was set up to make classified filmed documents for the Dept. of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission. The work of the unit literally chronicled the development of atomic power from 1947 to 1963.
“These images must never be lost,” said Charles Demos of the Dept. of Energy. “Their work will surely benefit historians, students, teachers and anyone else who has ever been intrigued by this extraordinary topic.”
The films could have disappeared were it not for the interest of a couple of people, including Kuran. Well known for his special effects work that extends from the “Star Wars” trilogy to the upcoming “Starship Troopers,” Kuran was tracking down footage to use in his 1995 docu “Trinity and Beyond” when he stumbled onto the work of Lookout Mountain.
He was able to use some of its material, but was fascinated to learn the outfit had made thousands of films, many of which remained classified decades later.
Through the efforts of the Dept. of Energy, he began the process of clearing films beginning with “Operation Ivy,” detailing the first hydrogen bomb test in 1952. He realized many of the documents were in jeopardy of being destroyed due to neglect. So, his second effort became preserving these films and the development of preservation processes.
Located in the Hollywood Hills, the 100,000-square-foot Lookout Mountain facility was built as an Air Defense Control Center prior to being designated a studio in 1947. Like any full-service studio, it included a full stage, screening rooms, a film lab and vaults. The grounds became a private residence in 1979.