Back to IndieWire

“Into Eternity” Filmmaker Interview: Into the Underworld & Into the Future

"Into Eternity" Filmmaker Interview: Into the Underworld & Into the Future

This interview was orignally published during last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Michael Madsen’s documentary “Into Eternity” opens at Film Forum in New York today and will roll out nationally in the near future.

Every day, the world over, large amounts of high-level radioactive waste created by nuclear power plants is placed in interim storages, which are vulnerable to natural disasters, man-made disasters, and to societal changes. In Finland the world’s first permanent repository is being hewn out of solid rock – a huge system of underground tunnels – that must last 100,000 years as this is how long the waste remains hazardous.

Once the waste has been deposited and the repository is full, the facility is to be sealed off and never opened again. Or so we hope, but can we ensure that? And how is it possible to warn our descendants of the deadly waste we left behind? How do we prevent them from thinking they have found the pyramids of our time, mystical burial grounds, hidden treasures? Which languages and signs will they understand? And if they understand, will they respect our instructions? While gigantic monster machines dig deeper and deeper into the dark, experts above ground strive to find solutions to this crucially important radioactive waste issue to secure mankind and all species on planet Earth now and in the near and very distant future. [Synopsis courtesy of the film’s website]

“Into Eternity”
Director: Michael Madsen
Screenwriter: Michael Madsen
Producer: Lise Lense-Moller
Editor: Daniel Dencik, Stefan Sundlof
Director of Photography: Heikki Farm F.S.C.
Co-Producer: Sami Jahnukainen, Kristina Aberg
75 min., Denmark

Responses courtesy of “Into Eternity” director Michael Madsen.

Creating an additional reality…

I am a media artist primarily working with documentary. I am interested in the areas of documentary filmmaking where additional reality is created. By this I mean, that I do not think reality constitutes a fixed entity, which accordingly can be documented and revealed in this or that respect. Instead, I suspect reality to be dependent on and susceptible to the nature of its interpretation. I am in other words interested in the potentials and requirements of how reality can be, and is, interpreted and thus understood.

While washing dishes in my kitchen I was distracting myself by listening to the radio and suddenly heard something I never knew about before, something I could not fathom – a massive project to create the world’s first permanent nuclear waste facility capable of lasting at least 100,000 years (the amount of time all nuclear waste needs to no longer be hazardous to humans, animals, plants and all living things on earth). It represents something completely new. And as such I suspect it to be emblematic of our time, and in a strange way out of time, which provided me with a unique vantage point for a documentary.

A message to the future…

The central challenge the facility, Onkalo (Finnish for ‘hiding place’), faces is to communicate the danger to future generations and thus prevent humans from entering the deadly facility. This is why “Into Eternity” is conceived as a message to the future – exposing the mind-boggling aspects of this endeavour which we are morally obliged to solve. This communication informed all levels of making the film (interviews, cinematography, sound design etc.).

The biggest challenge was to get permission to film the facility from the private company, Posiva, that is constructing it. Secondly, dealing with them.

The relevant debate…

Director Michael Madsen. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

In the wake of the climate debate, in particular the CO2 aspect, nuclear power has entered a renaissance. The one thing not debated is the waste aspect. This problem is not only not solved yet, it may be impossible to solve, because it would mean to know the future of the human race for another 100,000 years, equal to the time the first Homo Sapiens left Africa for the first time. It is important to realize that we all, as members of civilization today, are passing on to the future a deadly material that it never asked for. And the amount of nuclear waste worldwide is growing daily. Many nations use nuclear power and many nations are planning to build new plants. In February, President Obama said the U.S. will build two new nuclear power plants, the first since a notorious accident 30 years ago.


“Le Samourai” by Melville, “L’Eclisse” by Antonioni, the first “Alien” and “Elephant” by Gus van Sant were inspirational in terms of editing, cinematography and rhythm.

What’s next….

I am working on a project called “The Desert” which deals with the question and phenomenon of Civilization. Another, “The Black Forest,” investigates the possible links between modern warfare and modern (western) identity. Finally, “The True Average,” a 3D documentation of an utterly provincial town in Denmark.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox