A fight for answers as to why their children were battling rare cancers forms the crux of “In the Dark of the Valley,” the newest acquisition by MSNBC Films, a nascent unit that hopes to build the cable-news network’s pipeline of longform projects.
The documentary tells the story of a mother in southern California who finds that an abandoned rocket-testing facility, called the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, near her home was the site of one of the largest nuclear accidents in the U.S. She examines the possibility that the site may have exposed the surrounding community to cancer-causing radioactive and chemical waste. “When our team was first introduced to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, we were astounded by the difference a group of broken, but unwavering mothers could make,” director Nicholas Mihm said in a prepared statement. “MSNBC gives these mothers a voice, a voice that has too long been stifled by apathy and greed, on a platform that won’t let this story get lost in the shuffle once again.”
MSNBC will debut the film on Nov. 14 at 10 p.m. ET. “Dark” represents Mihm’s directorial debut, and the first feature documentary production by Brandon Scott Smith and Derek Sullivan Smith.
The NBCUniversal-backed news outlet is one of many vying to tap documentaries as a means of luring viewers in a challenging time. In a media sector increasingly dependent on streaming, documentaries have new pull. They stand up to repeated viewing and can be discovered by new viewers over time, which means they can serve as a stalwart of any video hub’s content library. At CNN, a CNN Films division has gained notice for documentary projects ranging from “Blackfish,” which tells the story of a Sea World trainer killed by an orca there in 2010, to “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me,” a look at the crooner’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease while trying to complete a tour. Fox News Media has used documentary programming as one of the elements in its Fox Nation streaming-video service.
“This is one of the most devastating man-made environmental disasters in our country that we rarely talk about,” MSNBC President Rashida Jones said in a statement. “This film illustrates the relentless efforts of mothers in pursuit of truth and heightens the human side of this poignant story.”
MSNBC has found early success with documentary projects. In 2020, MSNBC Films, NBC News Studios and Focus Features presented “The Way I See It,” which became the highest-rated non-news program in MSNBC history. MSNBC Films has also acquired French artist JR’s “Paper & Glue,” which will premiere on MSNBC in January 2022.
“In the Dark of the Valley” is produced by Nikomy, Good Shoes Inc.and Siloam Road, in association with Village Roadshow Television. Jones and Amanda Spain, vice president of longform acquisition for MSNBC Films, are executive producers. The team also includes director of animation Elyse Kelly and composer Katy Jarzebowski.