Directed by: Robert Kenner
Written by: Robert Kenner, Eric Schlosser, Brian Pearle, and Kim Roberts
When does a documentary about nuclear arms feel like a full-length fictional feature film? The answer: When Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt”) and Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation” “Food, Inc.”) are in the control center of filmmaking. Their newest documentary tackles the topic of nuclear armaments and accidents in a gripping narrative form, re-creating the true story of a devastating explosion in Arkansas in 1980. Using interviews from those whose job it was to trouble-shoot and solve problems in the silo where the missile was stored and former military personnel who were directly involved in dealing with a potential nuclear blast on our soil to real footage and incredible reinactments of the day, we not only educate ourselves about the bombs waiting to accidentally explode, we experience the day as if we were there.
It’s truly mind-blowing to learn about a situation so close to home that you had no idea ever occurred. My presumption is that that’s the way the U.S. Government wanted it to be. “Command and Control” seems to know that I’m not the only one who is uninformed in these matters. The film takes us back in time to the 1960’s to the development of nuclear weapons to protect ourselves from Russia. The statistics are unnerving as we discover the fact that 32,000 nuclear missiles were built: “It was a huge missile building binge,” as one former government employee stated. Now, with more than 7000 nuclear weapons buried on U.S. soil and less supervision and maintenance, the possibility for an accident substantially increases. Schlosser explains that we just don’t worry about it now. Thanks to the bravery of those who developed these weapons, their intuitive knowledge of safety mechanisms, and luck nothing has happened to a catastrophic degree. But we all know, luck eventually runs out.
“Command and Control” takes us on the day long journey, inside the missile sight, deep below the earth in Arkansas to truly understand what happened on that fateful day in September. It was a day that nothing went right. As specialized teams attempted to find what was going wrong, a wrench was dropped into the hole containing the missile. Luck wasn’t on this poor, young worker that day as he watched the wrench fall and perfectly strike a point to puncture a hole in the fuel tank. Dave Powell is this unlucky soul who then had to report what happened. As we listen to him recall this event in an interview, voicing over a realistic re-enactment, we immediately understand the thoughts and feelings of all those involved. And to learn yet another incredibly disturbing fact that the men that comprised this team were barely out of high school—they were boys. Imagine charging boys with the responsibility of maintaining and trouble-shooting a nuclear war head. It’s emotionally devastating.
The filmmakers expertly weave together a compelling and spellbinding story reminiscent of “The China Syndrome”—but it’s real. It is a minute by minute capture of the day in Damascus with the Titan II nuclear war head. You’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat with your heart racing, not knowing the outcome of this one day all the while learning about our history. But what is and should be most disturbing is that it could happen again. Let me rephrase that. As Bob Puerifoy, former military arms developer succinctly explained, it will happen again. It’s just a question of when.
Ignorance is bliss, this is true, but knowledge is power and “Command and Control” gives us the knowledge we need to start a conversation about the current nuclear arms in our country. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.
Be sure to see this enlightening and riveting documentary at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning, Friday, October 7 through October 13. Eric Schlosser will be in attendance to discuss the film on Friday, October 7 at 8 pm. For more information, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/comandandcontrol To listen to an interview with Schlosser about “The Bomb,” go to Closing Night Film at Tribeca, THE BOMB