Any of you old enough to have read this blog when it began will know that look before I started caring about stuff like press accreditation, this site was known as Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards. And so, it’s fair to say that I am about as far as it’s possible to get from a liberal hippie concerned about the environment and fluffy bunny rabbits. More than my political prejudice, I am also sceptical about earnest agit-docs on the grounds that I don’t think that they do any good. After all, who is going to pay to see a documentary made by tree-huggers if they don’t already agree with it, or at the very least, have a pre-existing interest in it.
Now, CONTAINMENT is a fantastic documentary because it doesn’t come across as propaganda, or an attempt to proselytise in an obvious and heavy handed way. Rather, it is an intelligent, insightful and above all complex discussion about what do with all the nuclear waste we have already created. By narrowing the focus of the film down to this one narrow but profound issue, the film-makers avoid getting caught up in the polemics of whether using nuclear energy is right or wrong, although there is a clear take-away from the material on show. This is exactly what I want a good documentary to do. I want it to make imaginative use of source material, archives and interviews to show me a complex argument and to lead me toward a more informed situation from where I can make up my own mind. And I did, and I’m guessing the film-makers would be pleased with the result. The point is that the film empowered me to do so, rather than banging me over the head with a text-book.
CONTAINMENT basically contrasts three sites of containment. First, we have a small town called Carlsbad in south New Mexico where the Mayor is enthusiastically advocating the building of WIPP - a nuclear waste containment facility that buries the waste deep in a salt layer that has been safely trapped in the earth for millions of years. The trade-off for the mayor is simple: he’ll take the 1000 jobs for the risk, which he believes is non-existent, of something going wrong at the plant. At which point, I, as a greedy capitalist, am thinking, 1000 jobs? Is that it? Is that all you get in exchange or taking material that will be dangerous for thousands of years beyond our comprehension as human beings? At any rate the facility is built and part of the surreality is that the condition for it opening is that a panel of worthies have to come up with a way to mark this territory as dangerous for thousands of years. So you have to try to imagine events thousands of years in the future - gonzo mining robots gone mad etc - and work out how to indicate to all these people not to tamper with the site.
The gentle, patient approach to depicting this clearly outlandish project is powerful. The careful use of animation shows just how beyond ridiculous is our human attempt to future proof this site. And when you realise how bonkers it is - how hubristic - I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that no-one has the right to use nuclear energy when we cannot certainly prevent future generations from being affected by it. The “marker project” did at least, however, make a valiant attempt at delineating the Carlsbad site. Other sites across America, and the example of Savannah is used here, are less well delineated and are not built with the community’s consent. And then we contrast Carlsbad and Savannah with the mother of all recent containment failures - Fukushima.
The upshot is that CONTAINMENT is an important and persuasive film that shows not tells, and does what all good documentaries do - it makes you see something in a new light and to emerge better informed than when you went into the cinema. Contrast that with the lumpen, grandiose and ultimately obnoxious PLANETARY, also playing in this festival.
CONTAINMENT has a running time of 80 minutes and does not yet have a commercial release date.