Blistering film chronicles decades of deception by federal government over close to 1000 detonations
Hiroshima. Nagasaki. Mercury, Nevada? The latter was the site for the testing of 928 large-scale nuclear weapons from 1951 to 1992. Emmy-winner Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”) narrates “Downwind,” a harrowing documentary that exposes an infamous chapter of United States history and the ongoing health consequences for downwinder communities, mostly comprised of Native Americans, Mormons and ranchers.
Gravitas Ventures, an Anthem Sports & Entertainment Company, will release Downwind in limited theatrical and on VOD on August 18th.
Generations of “downwinders” living in the path of radioactive fallout from hundreds of atomic bomb test explosions in Nevada have suffered terrible long-term effects on their health and their environment.
The film is executive produced by actor/activist Mathew Modine, who stars in this summer’s long-awaited “Oppenheimer” from director Christopher Nolan.
“I grew up in Utah,” says actor/executive producer Matthew Modine. “Southern Utah was deeply affected by the nearly 1,000 nuclear and atomic bombs detonated in the Nevada desert. My grandparents’ homestead was in Death Valley on land they shared with the Shoshone. My father grew up there and later died of cancer, like so many of our friends and neighbors. In 1987, my brother Maury was arrested in Mercury, Nevada – alongside our documentary’s narrator Martin Sheen — protesting the continued testing of nuclear bombs. Maury said the single smartest thing I’ve ever heard about the testing: ‘They know they work, why do they need to test them?’ With Putin threatening to use dirty bombs, this film is incredibly relevant. I’m proud to be in the cast of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which will further spotlight this subject.”
Oscar winner Michael Douglas became an anti-nuclear activist after starring in and producing the Academy Award-winning film “The China Syndrome” (1979) about a meltdown at a nuclear power plant. “Two weeks after the movie came out,” he recalls, “we had the Three Mile Island nuclear plant incident, and one began to see these unbelievable similarities. That was an epiphany for me; it was like someone was trying to tell me something. That was the beginning of my activism. The secrecy around these tests is so poisonous and has had such tragic consequences.”
Recently, Douglas tried to trace his family roots in Belarus, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. “After the (Chernobyl) tragedy, Belarus took most of the fallout,” he says. “And lo and behold, I couldn’t find my father’s (actor Kirk Douglas) village anymore. Because it was downwind. It was in that area of Belarus which was lost and had been vacated. The one thing I’d hoped for in my lifetime was to see this planet be rid of nuclear weapons. It looks like it’s not going to happen.”
“The Shoshone land and people unwillingly bear a disproportionate burden of risk from decades of nuclear weapons testing,” says Ian Zabarte, Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians. Zabarte’s grandfather, uncle and cousins have died from various forms of cancer and other diseases known to be plausibly caused by exposure to radioactive fallout from testing. To this day, the Nevada Test Site rests on deeded and sacred Shoshone land, without the consent of the Shoshone. Zabarte refers to the area as “the most-bombed nation on earth.” A tireless advocate, he is a board member of the Native Community Action Council and served on the Nevada Desert Experience Board.
Premiering their film at Utah’s Slamdance Film Festival, Co-directors Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller shared that they “were astonished by the fact that 928 large-scale nuclear weapons had been detonated on American soil. What we learned was horrifying. The radioactive fallout from atmospheric blasts (mushroom clouds) and underground testing (venting) spread in unpredictable patterns, determined by capricious weather conditions. We learned that the federal government referred to Downwinders in written statements as a ‘low use segment of the population’ and that the location of the Test Site rests on sacred Western Shoshone land, by treaty. But, for more than 40 years, the government restricted the area and conducted atomic weapons tests that obliterated the environment and exposed people and livestock to deadly fallout. And generations of people are still getting sick to this day. Despite a moratorium on testing, the Nevada Test Site remains operational and off-limits with the possibility that testing could resume any day.”
“Downwind” is a raw, blistering condemnation of decades of government deception told in the words of those whose lives have been irreparably damaged.
Other voices in the film also include:
- Patrick Wayne, son of American acting icon John Wayne. In 1956, Wayne starred as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, a blockbuster Hollywood epic produced by Howard Hughes and shot near St. George, Utah. One year prior to shooting, an atomic bomb nicknamed ‘Dirty Harry’ was detonated at the Nevada Test Site, just 133 miles from the eventual movie location. After a miscalculated wind forecast, Harry dusted St. George with some of the highest levels of radioactive fallout ever recorded in United States history, over twice the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. More than half of the cast and crew on The Conqueror, including Wayne, died of complications of cancer.
- Claudia Peterson, a social worker and ‘downwinder’ whose family has been devastated by cancer. A Mormon, she was ostracized by some in her own faith community after she began protesting the government’s actions.
- Political satirist and activist Lewis Black
- Darwin Morgan, Public Affairs Director, Nevada Test Site
Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller co-direct. Shapiro and Warren Pereira (“Tiger 24”) are producers. Shapiro and Warren Etheredge (“The Phantom 52”) are writers. Matthew Modine and Adam Rackoff and their Cinco Dedos Peliculas production company executive produce.
In December 1950, President Truman cordoned off and created the Nevada Test Site on Western Shoshone land in the desert near Las Vegas. The 1,350 square mile swath of land is roughly the size of Rhode Island. From 1951-1992, atomic bombs were detonated in the open atmosphere and underground, injecting clouds and the Jetstream with deadly fallout that eventually drifted to earth. Prior to every test, meteorologists predicted the directional path of radioactive fallout, based on an educated guess of wind patterns. But winds often shifted at the last-minute. Communities downwind of the Test Site experienced higher rates of cancer and other diseases and livestock suffered mutations.
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) downplayed and distorted evidence and even assured the public that the fallout posed “no danger.” Ultimately, in 1990, Congress passed the temporary Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) which awards qualifying downwinders a $50K compensatory lump sum. However, the admission of guilt only applies to isolated counties in the states of Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Neighboring states — including New Mexico where the first nuclear bomb was detonated — are not eligible. Today, many downwinders are still unaware of RECA or not eligible. Efforts to expand and extend the boundaries of RECA continue. The act will sunset in 2024.
“Downwind” captures the astonishing rise of American patriot-activists committed to exposing the government’s breach of trust, to stop future nuclear weapons testing and to mobilize Congress to expand the underfunded Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
“Downwind” has been a robust presence on the film festival circuit. It won the ‘Outstanding Excellence Award’ at Docs Without Borders and won ‘Best Feature Documentary’ at the International Uranium Film Festival and at the Hollywood Gold Awards. It was screened at Slamdance, Ora! Fest, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Cordillera International Film Festival and Nature Without Borders International Film Festival.
About Gravitas Ventures
Gravitas Ventures is a leading all-rights distributor of independent feature films and documentaries. Founded in 2006, Gravitas connects independent filmmakers and producers with distribution opportunities across the globe. Working with talented directors and producers, Gravitas Ventures has distributed thousands of films into over a hundred million homes in North America – over one billion homes worldwide. Their recent wide theatrical release “Mack & Rita” starring Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton was released under the new label Gravitas Premiere. Recent Gravitas Venture releases include “The King’s Daughter” directed by Sean McNamara, “Queen Bees” directed by Michael Lembeck, “Our Friend” directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson, and Jason Segel, “Vanguard,” directed by Stanley Tong and starring Jackie Chan, “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” directed by Andy Tennant and starring Katie Holmes; For more information, please visit www.gravitasventures.com, and follow @GravitasVOD on Twitter and @gravitasventures on Instagram.
About Anthem Sports & Entertainment, Inc.
Anthem Sports & Entertainment Inc. is a global multi-platform media company with offices and studios in Toronto, Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, New York, Kansas City and Cleveland. Anthem’s portfolio includes AXS TV, a leading music, entertainment and lifestyle television channel and digital media company; global film distribution company Gravitas Ventures; Fight Network, the world’s premier combat sports channel with broadcast distribution across 10+ countries and available globally through multiple OTT platforms; IMPACT Wrestling, one of the world’s leading wrestling organizations; Invicta Fighting Championships, the world’s premier all-women mixed martial arts promotion; Game+, the leader in sports wagering, Esports and gaming content; GameTV, the home of game shows and competition-based reality series; and HDNet Movies, which features theatrically released films and documentaries. Anthem also has a significant ownership interest in Pursuit Channel, one of the top outdoor channels in the U.S. For more information, visit www.anthemse.com