An unlikely idea becomes a big success

The International Uranium Film Festival focuses on nuclear power and weapons and isn’t running out of entries any time soon

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The first time I met Norbert Suchanek I thought he must be a little bit bonkers. Maybe it was just that infectious positivity he’d picked up after transplanting himself from his native Germany to Brazil. With boundless enthusiasm and a completely straight face he told me he had started an annual uranium film festival that would feature only films on the topic of nuclear power — everything from uranium mining to radioactive waste — and on nuclear war. And maybe not just annual, Norbert said, but a festival that would travel around the world and even play in more than one city a year.

After he’d shown Dr. Strangelove and Godzilla a few times, I thought, he would surely run out of material. Plus how many films could there be on such a dry and arcane subject as nuclear power? Who would choose to attend a festival replete with depressing films about nuclear war?

But Norbert wasn’t planning to show Dr. Strangelove or Godzilla. These would be mostly new films, or undiscovered earlier pieces. This seemed to me like a very short-lived idea.

Sometimes it just feels so wonderful to be wrong.

So here we are eight years and countless Uranium Film Festivals later and the whole thing is going like gangbusters and Norbert and his partner and project co-director, Marcia Gomes de Oliveira (the pair are pictured at center in the headline photo), are returning to cities where they have been before, such is the festival’s popularity.

WindowRockposter.jpgThis winter, the International Uranium Film Festival returns to Window Rock on the Navajo Nation from November 29-December 1 before traveling on to Flagstaff, Arizona, Albuquerque and Grants, New Mexico, and culminating in Santa Fe, New Mexico on December 9. The festival has been to Jordan, Germany, India, the USA, Canada, and of course Brazil, among other venues.

My first experience of the festival was in Munich, Germany, and I was amazed to discover not only the expected documentaries and animations but dramas as well. These latter were actually even more weird and compelling and shocking than the docos.

It all began, says the Festival’s website, with some important questions about climate change and peak oil. What would happen to a warming planet if we didn’t renounce this fatal addiction to fossil fuels? And was nuclear energy the best replacement power?

That question has largely been answered by events. Nuclear energy is not capable of serving as a replacement power. It is too slow, too expensive, too inflexible and of course fraught with the unanswerable question about waste management and the demonstrable dangers of accident. The festival began in Rio de Janeiro in 2010. One year later, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster occurred in Japan.

People, as well as the issue, are an important focus of the festival. The organizers wanted to hear about films featuring “concerned citizens and indigenous peoples fighting against uranium mining projects in countries like Australia, India, Niger, Namibia, USA, Canada or Portugal.”

The festival was at Window Rock in 2013. It is back, say the organizers, at a timely moment. “Now in 2018, we are returning to the United States at a time when there is renewed interest in restarting the Mt. Taylor [uranium] mine located near Laguna and Acoma Pueblos and Grants in NM,” they write on their website. “Despite no operating mines in New Mexico in the last nearly thirty years, the possibility that it could restart is tantalizing to local communities that face economic hardships. The Uranium Film Festival is an opportunity to provide education and remembrance of what actually happened during mining operations and a look at the environmental and health devastation left behind.”

Suchanek adds: “The issue of nuclear power is not only an issue of the Navajo Nation, who suffered for decades because of uranium mining. All people should be informed about the risks of uranium, nuclear weapons and the whole nuclear fuel chain.”

The selection process is tantalizing. There are, it turns out, lots and lots of films on the nuclear topic. And Suchanek does not necessarily stick to the anti-nuclear script. When the festival went to Quebec, Canada, in 2015, he insisted on showing Pandora’s Promise, a film that in our view at Beyond Nuclear and elsewhere, was a blatant pro-nuclear propaganda piece and inaccurate largely due to what it omitted. We disagreed, Suchanek showed the film, and almost no one— including the director — showed up. So we were all winners.

Sometimes there are even comedies. One of my favorites was Herr Hoppe and Nuclear Waste, which in three parts illustrated delightfully just how utterly we have failed to solve the radioactive waste problem. (You can see all three episodes here.)

This November and December, some of the films to be included are: Anointed, a powerful visual poem we featured on our Beyond Nuclear International website, by Marshall Islander, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner; Dignity at a Monumental Scale, Kelly Whalen’s “art-documentary” about the work of mural photographic artist, Chip Thomas (to  be featured soon on these pages); and The Repository, about the ill-fated and unscientific Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump project in Nevada, USA.

The Festival is always on the lookout for new films to consider, and “accepts submissions of feature length and short length films in all genres: Documentary, Fiction, Experimental, Animation, Comedy, Romance, Horror, Thriller, Science Fiction, Suspense, Student productions. The festival is also interested in educational and image films about nuclear science, nuclear power, and radioactivity. It is not mandatory that the films are new productions; they could have been produced at any time.”

Like its more notable counterparts in Cannes, Sundance and elsewhere, the festival also awards prizes. It welcomes directors to speak in person about their work and invites audience discussion. 

This year’s festival is co-hosted by the New Mexico Social Justice and Equity Institute and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment who will gratefully accept donations to support the event.

To learn more about the International Uranium Film Festival, visit the website.

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