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CONTAINMENT Asks Important Questions About Nuclear Energy


By Michael Andrews (Ebert Young Writer Participant)

CONTAINMENT is one of those films which raises more questions than answers and is satisfied to leave the audience in a state of uneasy ambivalence, but in the best way possible. The documentary takes an observational and educative tone in its presentation of the current and future concerns of how our nuclear waste is handled, while still presenting three distinct narratives: one related to the Fukushima plant in Japan, one about a nuclear waste “burial ground” in New Mexico, and one about a weapons facility in Georgia.

The film opens with a shot of a mysterious, paper-masked woman wandering through a dilapidated, overgrown street, long since abandoned due to radiation. This the first of many powerful images, such as cooling towers that slowly creep into view above dense tree lines, digitally fragmented video of coolant pools boiling over, and dozens of ten foot tall “logs” of radioactive waste. The film’s astonishing visuals are paired with a rather dramatic soundtrack, creating a sense almost like that of watching a sci-fi thriller a la 28 Days Later or Contagion. However, the anxiety generated here is more genuine and disconcerting as the film reminds us that these images are of reality, and not of some make-believe apocalypse. Even the animated sequences of possible future scenarios and mentions of radioactive alligators (though perceivably fanciful) are based in fact.

Thankfully, the movie isn’t overly heavy-handed or dramatic in the points it wishes to make. I didn’t leave the theater feeling as if someone had tried to persuade me to rally for or against any particular cause (a point of discontentment among some audience members, who understandably wanted a bit more resolution out of the film). However, I did leave feeling more informed, and more importantly, a lot more curious.

CONTAINMENT asks the audience to really consider and define their concept of “clean” energy, to reevaluate their assumptions about and plan for the future, to ask who should be in charge of nuclear related decisions, and to consider the distinction between current humans and future humans. It doesn’t care to answer these questions itself, as it knows the burden lies with us. I believe that a film doesn’t need to say what it thinks for it to be important; it just needs to get us to ask that of ourselves.

As a part of our Ebert Young Writers Program for the Arts, we will be publishing the participants reviews and interviews they produce for the workshop on the official HIFF blog. 




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