×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Atomic States of America

Located at the intersection of U.S. nuclear amnesia and the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima plant in Japan, "The Atomic States of America" takes a fairly objective approach to an emotionally volatile topic, offering an examination of nuclear power that could convince its supporters to think otherwise.

With:
With: Kelly McMasters, Karl Grossman, Neil Sheehan, Alec Baldwin, Helen Caldicott, Christy Todd Whitman.

Located at the intersection of U.S. nuclear amnesia and the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima plant in Japan, “The Atomic States of America” takes a fairly objective approach to an emotionally volatile topic, offering an examination of nuclear power that could convince its supporters to think otherwise. Based on Kelly McMasters’ memoir (“Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town”), the docu presents both sides of the issue but can’t avoid the conclusion that, when it comes to reactors, money trumps safety. Exposure may be limited to like-minded cable and theatrical outlets.

Co-helmers Don Argott (who directed “Rock School” and “The Art of the Steal”) and Sheena M. Joyce (who produced both those earlier docus) eschew the camp quality of such films as “Atomic Cafe,” but much of what they uncover, as presented, is nonetheless patently absurd. The correlation between nuclear waste and cancer is consistently denied by those involved; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has become an arm of the nuclear industry; facilities such as Indian Point, located a mere 34 miles north of New York City, lack adequate plans for the evacuation of their neighbors should something like Fukushima occur. Granted, a tsunami may not be very likely to roll up the Hudson River, but there are enough unpleasant facts to make auds very nervous, whether or not they live near a nuclear plant.

Someone who did was McMasters, whose Long Island hometown was in unhappy proximity to the Brookhaven National Labs, around which skyrocketing cancer rates were written off as coincidence or an aberrant gene pool. Actor Alec Baldwin, a lifelong Long Islander, calls the Brookhaven people liars (and worse), but in following McMasters’ work, the film builds a convincing statistical case about cancer and nukes.

As we learn from the film, which uses creative graphics to explain some of the issue’s more complex aspects, nuclear power was the U.S. government’s way of taking the same force it had used to incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki and turning it to good. The antique PSAs, newsreels and archival footage are amusing, but they also speak to a public naivete about atomic power and the fledgling industry’s willingness to tell people only what they needed to know, or less.

A parade of experts testify both for and against nuclear power, and with few exceptions, most seem sincere about what they say. Inspectors at Indian Point seem genuinely convinced that their work is protecting those who live around the plant, and seem just as surprised when they come under siege by a segment of the population that would like the plants closed down.

For them, as for Argott and Joyce, timing is everything: In 2010, the U.S. announced the construction of the first nuclear power plant in more than 32 years. One year later, when the film was apparently under way, the earthquake struck the Fukushima plant in Japan and gave new life to the debate over the safety of nuclear power. It can’t be called good fortune, but Argott and Joyce make the most of the convergence of events, and while theirs is unquestionably an advocacy film, it doesn’t take any cheap shots. Their argument is reasoned and worth engaging.

Production values are generally good, but the score by West Dylan Thordson is spectacular.

The Atomic States of America

Docu

Production: A 9.14 Pictures presentation in association with H Prods. (International sales: Ro*co Films Intl., Sausalito, Calif.) Produced by Sheena M. Joyce. Executive producers, Joan Hornig, George Hornig, Noah Musher, Anne Marie Macari, Jane Preiser, Linda Gelfond, Rory Riggs, Danny Sherman. Directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce, based on "Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From an Atomic Town" by Kelly McMasters.

Crew: Camera (color), Argott; editor, Demian Fenton; music, West Dylan Thordson; music supervisor, Susan Jacobs; sound, Bob Schachner; associate producer, Jane Presier. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2012. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Kelly McMasters, Karl Grossman, Neil Sheehan, Alec Baldwin, Helen Caldicott, Christy Todd Whitman.

More Film

  • Vice Christian Bale Sam Rockwell Playback

    Berlin Adds 'Vice,' New Films by Zhang Yimou and Andre Techine to Official Lineup

    Five new titles, including the latest films from Zhang Yimou and Andre Techine, have joined the competition program at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Adam McKay’s “Vice” will screen out of competition. “Vice” has already won a Golden Globe for star Christian Bale’s portrayal of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and picked up six BAFTA [...]

  • Picture Tree Adds ‘Cold Feet’ to

    Picture Tree Adds ‘Cold Feet’ to Berlin Market Lineup (EXCLUSIVE)

    Picture Tree Intl. has added German romantic comedy “Cold Feet” (Kalte Füsse) to its market lineup at the Berlin Film Festival, where the sales agent will screen the film as a market premiere. Sony Pictures released the pic, directed Wolfgang Groos, in Germany on Thursday, and it garnered 100,000 admissions over its opening weekend. “Cold [...]

  • Neil Burger

    'Upside' Director Neil Burger Sets Sci-Fi 'Voyagers' as Next Project

    “The Upside” director Neil Burger is set to direct sci-fi thriller “Voyagers” as his next project. The film will be fully financed and co-produced by Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios, and produced by Burger’s Nota Bene Productions and Basil Iwanyk’s Thunder Road Films. AGC also handles international sales on the new film. Written and directed by [...]

  • Berlin: M-Appeal Acquires Panorama Title ‘Greta’

    M-Appeal Acquires Berlin Panorama Title ‘Greta’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    M-Appeal has acquired world sales rights to “Greta,” the feature debut of Brazil’s Armando Praça which will world premiere in this year’s Berlinale Panorama section. The Berlin-based film industry has also dropped an international trailer, to which Variety has had exclusive access. More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Produced [...]

  • Kew Media Boards Michael Jackson Documentary

    Kew Media Boards Michael Jackson Documentary 'Leaving Neverland' for International

    Kew Media Distribution has boarded controversial Michael Jackson sex-abuse documentary “Leaving Neverland” ahead of its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Kew Media has taken international distribution rights (excluding U.K. and U.S.) to the two-part documentary, which is a co-production of HBO and British broadcaster Channel 4. Directed by BAFTA-winner Dan Reed, “Leaving [...]

  • Nordic Film Market: New Pálmason, Hákonarson,

    Nordic Film Market Selects Latest Palmason, Hakonarson, Hafstrom, Ganslandt

    The 20th Nordic Film Market in Göteborg, unspooling Jan. 31-Feb 3, will showcase 16 works in progress including Hlynur Pálmason’s “A White, White Day”, Grímur Hákonarson’s “The County”, Mikael Håfström’s “The Perfect Patient” and Jesper Ganslandt’s “438 Days.” Iceland is well represented this year with top directors and festival darlings Pálmason (“Winter Brothers”), Hákonarson (“Rams”) [...]

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content