CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 5. . . .October 2, 2009.
The Strangest Dream.
Eric Bednarski (Director). Kent Martin (Producer). Eric Bednarski & Barry Cowling (Writers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
89 min., 29 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9108 259.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.
From the Hiroshima Peace Museum, dated August 9, 2009
That weapon of human extinction, the atomic bomb, was dropped on the people of Hiroshima sixty-four years ago. Yet the hibakusha's suffering, a hell no words can convey, continues. Radiation absorbed 64 years earlier continues to eat at their bodies, and memories of 64 years ago flash back as if they had happened yesterday.
Fortunately, the grave implications of the hibakusha experience are granted legal support. A good example of this support is the courageous court decision humbly accepting the fact that the effects of radiation on the human body have yet to be fully elucidated. The Japanese national government should make its assistance measures fully appropriate to the situations of the aging hibakusha, including those exposed in "black rain areas" and those living overseas. Then, tearing down the walls between its ministries and agencies, it should lead the world as standard-bearer for the movement to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020 to actualize the fervent desire of hibakusha that "No one else should ever suffer as we did."
Using a comprehensive, sweeping assortment of present-day footage, still photos from the past, along with movie-style footage from World War ll days, an immense, pan-global story is presented in The Strangest Dream. It is an exceptional achievement which shows the history of the world's military use of the atomic bomb in elaborate detail.
One of the key voices in this biographical piece is the articulate niece of the late Joseph Rotblat, nuclear physicist and humanitarian, speaking on-camera as she is interviewed at length about her uncle. Other individuals interviewed and filmed live for the documentary include a retired Russian nuclear scientist; Jayantha Dhanapala, the current president of the not-for-profit organization Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; a retired woman who had worked as an assistant in Rotblat's nuclear research laboratory/office in England; Canadian Romeo D'Allaire, author of Shake Hands with the Devil; and a Japanese fisherman who had survived the 1954 atomic test that took place in the south Pacific.
Rotblat's private life and his uniquely personal approach to addressing the issue of how to prevent nuclear holocaust form the 'rudder' for balancing the entire film. At one point, we learn that he even calculated the size of the 1954 test nuclear detonation and published the information publicly, though he was criticized by some for doing so. He felt that the public had been misled and needed to know the truth. This action was clearly in keeping with his much-lauded, highly ethical response to addressing the global nuclear arms race.
Rotblat was a charismatic, influential scientist who departed America's Manhattan Project early in its "life" because he recognized the potential of the destructive danger of testing the atomic bomb in a world where political alliances or disputes could too easily become grounds for utter catastrophe. He was viewed with great suspicion by some people because he had taken this single action. However, he persevered in resisting nuclear weapons and war and ultimately co-founded the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs with Bertrand Russell.
Rotblat, himself, had close family members who survived the Nazi purge of Warsaw, Poland, in the Second World War; however, tragically his young wife had not managed to escape the Holocaust. He never remarried. The entire war and its outcome on people is thus understood to be an important influence on him.
I began to watch this film with dread. I had the expectation that it would leave behind a heightened awareness of the current state of world affairs as it pertains to nuclear missile proliferation. That certainly was one of the results of seeing the film. However, I gained much valuable awareness of the foremost "solution" as well as a far better sense of the "problem's" extent. The widespread expansion of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is practically mind-numbing. As far as 'solution,' the chief one among all that are shown in the film is Rotblat's lasting legacy: Pugwash.
It should be noted that the medical application of nuclear physics and technology was the foremost direction that Rotblat chose for his own research work after leaving the Manhattan Project, and this important subject was also touched upon in the film.
For a teen generation and their "boomer" parents and other relatives -- namely those who have not lived through a world war -- this masterful film is not only important but necessary. It should be seen by all graduates of high schools -- in Canada and elsewhere -- interested in a future for this planet and all who live on it. It should be shown in grade 11 and 12 history and politics classes, as well as by such organizations as Council of Canadians, the Green Party, voters' leagues, parliaments, senates, war-crimes courts and many others. It is ideal material for and should be required viewing for university journalism students where the news media is being addressed from the point of view of the creative use of news archives, as well as present-day material as they reveal story, setting and the creation of ambiance.
According to Facebook, The Strangest Dream was nominated for a 2009 Writer’s Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award for best writing in a documentary. On April 1st, 2009, the film was screened at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. On May 4th, 2009, it was screened in New York, at the United Nations.
If you are a voter in Canada today, you owe it to yourself and everyone you care about to see this film. Watch it in two or three manageable lengths if you feel its scope or impact will overwhelm, but prepare to assume some degree of responsibility for ensuring it is seen and considered in as many classrooms or public venues as you can, as soon as possible. I suggest that a literature circle approach to this work be employed by teachers; six possible experts would be the biography specialist, the archive source-finder, the Pugwash by internet reference presenter, the world history expert, the world geographical expert and the science fact-checker. Presentations to small and large groups could be done so that finally each group would have a power-point presentation to add to the school library.
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired science teacher living in Ontario.
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