Lucy Walker’s documentary, Countdown to Zero, is the latest Participant Media production to strike fear in your heart. The subject this time around is nuclear war, with a provocative glimpse at how close we’ve come and how close we are, to complete devastation. A very academic and dense tutorial on the history of nuclear proliferation around the globe, Countdown to Zero is never dull and never a bore. The last few minutes become overtly didactic and earnest, but otherwise, Countdown to Zero is a smart document of this important issue.
Walker gained incredible access to almost everyone you could imagine to speak on the topic, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Jimmy Carter to Tony Blair, and various academics. Amidst all these talking heads, Walker includes man-on-the-street interviews to accentuate the naivete of most world citizens when it comes to nuclear arms. But the real power of the film is the history lessons, showcasing the evolution of nuclear tension around the globe, after the United States started it all with the bombing of Hiroshima. No one in the film is in favor of nuclear warfare, but through the film, we realize that it has escalated into a “necessary” evil. This is particularly true of smaller, and more militant, nations that see nuclear weapons as a way to defend its people. Nuclear disarmament is a much harder issue for citizens to support, compared to other Participant Media subjects like food (Food Inc.) or education (Waiting For Superman), because it feels like something only world leaders can control. As true as that may be, the film still offers a tangible sense of public responsibility.
Magnolia Pictures hosted a premiere for the film on Tuesday night, at the Paley Center in Manhattan. The film’s producers, Jeff Skoll and Lawrence Bender, attended along with guests such as Valerie Plame Wilson, Queen Noor, Alex Gibney, Heather Graham, Moby, Bingham Ray, and Amir Bar-Lev.
Countdown to Zero opens July 23 in Manhattan and Washington D.C. It will roll out to other markets nationwide, through September. Here is the film’s trailer: