The compilation program ‘Big Science’ consists of the following four short films and is part of ‘(Do Not) Look at the Flash,’ the festival section about the atomic bomb in documentary cinema.
Gefährliches Wissen (Peter Nestler, 1984) – 30’
Humanity’s thirst for knowledge and its consequences, from the Bible to the A-bomb. Nestler uses sixteenth-century engravings and paintings by artists such as Dürer, Grünewald and Holbein the Younger, but also paintings by the Czech illustrator Zdeněk Burian, as well as Bach’s music played by Gustav Leonhardt. An unknown masterpiece by Nestler.
“I made a film called Farlig Kunskap [Gefährliches Wissen] about the development of nuclear weapons represented through the history of art. I thought it was very exciting to cover the whole social evolution in the history of production, which were two things that had previously been separated. How the people who were involved in the production history were living, what kind of living conditions they had, and what kind of constraints they were subjected to.”
Martin Grennberger in conversation with Peter Nestler1
De l’atome à la bombe atomique (Reine Renier, 1954) – 12’
A scientiﬁc ﬁlm, directed by a collaborator of Charles Dekeukeleire – Reine Renier. In the same year, they co-directed L’Alerte and Dekeukeleire made a fiction feature, Un nuage atomique, in which two journalists visit the Waterloo studio he had bought with Renier. The two fellows come to view the rushes of a film-within-the-film about the atom, i.e. Dekeukeleire’s original project that was to take the form of a satirical warning but remained incomplete.
A Short Vision (Peter and Joan Foldes, 1956) – 6’
“Just last week you read about the H-bomb being dropped. Now two great English writers, two very imaginative writers – I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated – but two English writers, Joan and Peter Foldes, wrote a thing which they called A Short Vision in which they wondered what might happen to the animal population of the world if an H-bomb were dropped.”
Ed Sullivan introducing the apocalyptic short film A Short Vision on the May 27, 1956 broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show.
Shot for little money in their kitchen on a makeshift animation table, married couple and trained painters Peter and Joan Foldes created one of the most influential British animated films ever made. Its bleak subject – the end of the world caused by a nuclear apocalypse – reflects a widespread preoccupation in 50s Britain which would soon lead to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The film is composed mostly of still drawings, creating a terrifying effect amplified by a sombre commentary spoken in a Biblical style. The film haunted a whole generation after it was shown on primetime television to 14 million unsuspecting American viewers, including many young children who hadn’t left the room, and reportedly produced one of the biggest reactions since Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938.
Prophecy [Yogen] (Susumu Hani, 1982) – 43’
This rare documentary is one of the very last efforts from preeminent documentarist/activist Susumu Hani (1928), one of the central and most unusual filmmakers of the 1960s Japanese New Wave. This one is a short documentary about the 1945 atomic bombing and its devastating consequences. The film came out of the "10 Foot Movement". A movement organized by the Japan Peace Museum, which mobilized Japanese citizen activists to buy back small segments of film footage of the effects of the atomic bomb from the U.S. National Archives. The film combines recent footage of survivors of the atomic bomb with American archival footage, portraying the sorrow of atomic bomb survivors in the cold war period.
The dramatic protagonist of this documentary is Taniguchi, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. He is seen as he patiently awaits his turn in a hospital waiting room. He was 16 at the time of the bombing and spent the next 35 years in and out of hospitals for treatments and cure for his tumor mutilated body. Through Taniguchi's red thread we see images of the time following the bombing. These are mostly footage shot either by Japanese civilians or by US military departments most of which have been censored for years since they contain some of the most striking and disturbing images most likely to affect the arms race between US and other countries at the time. This movie which feels even more contemporary today prevents us to forget that both bombings caused 60.000 deaths in Hiroshima and 30.000 in Nagasaki, but during the following five months those deaths rose respectively to 140.000 and 60.000. From the testimony of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki echos an appeal that yields a prophetic meaning: "The dreadful agonies and sufferings that we went through should never be repeated in the future". The music score is by none other than maestro Toru Takemitsu.