Madrid-based Onza Distribution, producer of “The Department of Time,” has acquired international distribution rights to four-part doc series “Palomares: The Atomic Bomb Fiasco,” a stranger than fiction doc thriller about how in 1966 the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped four hydrogen bombs on Spain.
Directed by Alvaro Ron (“Velvet Collection,” “Hernán,” “The Hunt: Monteperdido”), “Palomares” details, partly through an interview with its reserve pilot Major Larry G. Messinger, how on Jan. 17, 1966 a B52 bomber of the U.S. Air Force collided in mid-air with a KC-135 tanker plane during a re-fueling mission. Four hydrogen bombs with 75-times the destructive force of Hiroshima fell to earth around a picturesque fishing village in eastern Spain, Palomares.
Some 1,600 military personnel from the most modern army in the world suddenly descended on Palomares, a village with gravel roads and no TV. Three bombs, undetonated, are found quickly.
But two, whose casings are broken, release plutonium dust into the air.
As the U.S Navy mobilizes 28 ships in a desperate attempt to find the fourth bomb, journalists from all over the world converge on Palomares to announce how the U.S. has lost an H-bomb. Spain’s Minister of Information Manuel Fraga and its U.S. ambassador, Angier Biddle Duke, are dispatched to take a dip off a Palomares beach to show its waters are perfectly fit for bathing.
“The story of ‘Palomares’ is too incredible to be true and perhaps the best way to tell it was through a documentary series. If we had done a scripted series, people would think we were making it up,” Ron said.
He added: “This is a piece of U.S. and Spanish history that had never been told in all its complexity and this ‘golden age’ of documentary series has given us the opportunity to finally do so.”
Fall-out from nuclear history’s most catastrophic air accident still roil today as U.S. officer Victor Skaar, involved in the U.S. clean-up, has launched a class-action to oblige the U.S. government to give medical treatment to Palomares veterans. The E.U. has given Spain until the end of 2021 to report on potential nuclear contamination still present in Palomares.
Penned by Daniel Boluda (“Clandestino,” “El Palmar de Troya”) and María Cabo (“El Palmar de Troya”), as well as Marta Catalán and Ron, “Palomares: The Atomic Bomb Fiasco” weaves a rich tapestry: Eyewitness accounts; expert analysis from the authors of leading non-fiction accounts of the accident, Rafael Moreno, José Herrera and Barbara Morán; never-seen archive footage, such as an interview with Marvin McCamis, pilot of a submersible involved in the search for the fourth bomb; reference to recently unclassified papers; and cinematic-quality reconstruction.
The eyewitness accounts are notable in their equanimity, the expert analysis in its consensus.
“I wanted to give voice to the normal people who were involved in the accident,” Ron told Variety. “Watching the documentaries of Errol Morris, I learned how reconstruction can help an audience.”
“Palomares” marks one of the final documentaries produced by David Beriáin at the Madrid-based 93 Metros before he was killed in Burkina Faso while making an anti-poaching documentary. One of the key figures on Spain’s new documentary scene, Beriáin’s director or producer credits also took in “Clandestine” for Discovery Channel and “El Palmar de Troya,” for Movistar Plus.
For Onza, which recently opened a Miami office, the Movistar Plus deal is another strategic step-up, here via its alliance with Movistar Plus, as the pay-TV/SVOD arm of giant European telco Telefonica drives energetically into non-fiction.
“We are delighted to start a collaboration with a brand like Movistar Plus, which is so well positioned internationally,” said Carlos Garde, director of Onza Distribution.
“‘Palomares’ is a unique, once-suppressed story that is already generating conversation among the main international buyers. This alliance with Movistar Plus forms part of our strategy for growth by uniting with key producers in Spain,” he added.
Last July, Onza Distribution signed a strategic alliance with Movistar, Telefonica’s label in Latin America, to represent worldwide sales on Movistar’s first four original series.