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Nuclear weapons: a political strike on the big screen

Producers of 'Countdown to Zero,' a docudrama about the dangers of nuclear weapons, hope it will boost the cause of disarmament the way 'An Inconvenient Truth' did global warming.

By / April 6, 2010

The movie ‘Countdown to Zero,’ intended to warn about the dangers of nuclear weapons, says a tennis ball-size object could wreak havoc in a city like New York. The docudrama, to be released in July, depicts a nuclear event that one reviewer says will ‘scare the breath out’ of audiences.

Courtesy of Magnolia Films


When Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender put out Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," he had no idea it would so strongly hit the public zeitgeist on climate change. Now he is preparing to release in July a different kind of apocalyptic docudrama – depicting a nuclear event.

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"Countdown to Zero" is designed to counter the idea that the threat of a nuclear catastrophe has receded because of the end of the cold war. Screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie left audiences abuzz.

Mr. Bender, whose work ranges from the elegiac "Good Will Hunting," to the postmodern "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill" series, part of his collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, says that after "An Inconvenient Truth" he got lobbied by every kind of social-action group. All wanted their message on film. It was a bit overwhelming. So Bender stepped back to ask himself what he should do next.

IN PICTURES: Nuclear Weapons

"What is the most important issue facing mankind? Well, one is global warming," Bender says by phone from his Wilshire offices in Los Angeles. "The other is a nuclear event, whether by accident or by terrorism, that would be devastating on a global scale."

One Sundance reviewer, John Anderson, writes: "A kind of suicide hotline for a rogue-nuke world, [the film] boasts a cast of international superstars – Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pervez Musharraf, Tony Blair – and a convincing argument that the human race is on borrowed time: Given the number of nuclear weapons in existence, the ease with which they can be made, the eagerness of terrorists to possess them and a worldwide cluelessness about nuclear security, it's only a matter of time before something terribly ugly happens. A politically urgent picture, it will also literally scare the breath out of ... a worldwide audience."