Pandora's Promise (2013) ***
Dir. Robert Stone
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Nuclear power is cool. It's not dangerous. Well, not too much, anyway. Yeah, it's killed people and made many more very ill, but not as many as you would think - just a few, really. Nothing to get upset about. Let's all join hands and circle all the world's nuclear power plants in a nice, big group hug.
Robert Stone's new feature "documentary" Pandora's Promise pretty much suggests we should. Financed by a number of interests that have the most to gain from promoting the nuclear industry and more pointedly, acquired, co-financed and co-presented by CNN Films, a division of CNN, that paragon of propaganda - oops, I mean "news and public affairs".
First and foremost, it is a superbly made film. It presents its thesis clearly, then expertly (on a CRAFT-level) goes about the business of proving it by making use of well-conducted interviews with a clutch of very intelligent, persuasive and committed individuals, a huge whack of fascinating archival footage, gorgeously and sumptuously shot new footage (in addition to the aforementioned interviews), edited with skill and precision, structured with strong narrative, ideological and thematic arcs and brilliantly scored by Gary Lionetti with music that pounds home the needs of its filmmaker to provide the strongest visceral audience reaction to a perspective that is - due to a lack of any real journalistic integrity - aimed at those who can't think for themselves (and worse, the pseudo-thinkers, pseudo-liberals and pseudo-everything-and-everyone-else).
To say Stone has NOT crafted a fine piece of work would be a lie.
It is, however, fiction - in spite of being a documentary - or rather, it resembles its earlier cinematic bedfellows generated by the likes of Nazi Germany and the Communist (former) Soviet Union. That the film is American only serves to endorse its Totalitarian roots.
The narrative line is simple and compelling. In spite of all the high-falutin', intelligent "sounding" hyperbole shovelled down our throats like so much candy-flavoured raw sewage, one could almost be convinced of the film's pro-nuclear stance. The film starts off with some shaky-cam footage of anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and a bunch of screaming radical protesters passionately taking aim at pro-nuke policies. This is followed immediately by gorgeously lit, composed and shot interviews with several intelligent, well-spoken individuals who discuss their environmental advocacy in terms of once being anti-nuke, but now being pro-nuke.
Not too subtle, but most viewers won't notice that. The movie isn't aimed at those who will notice such slanted approaches - it's aimed at the Great Unwashed (or worse, the Great Unwashed who think they're "clean").
And just who are the reasonable people interviewed in the film? Well, they're an impressive bunch.
Stewart Brand, is the founder and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog. That's what the film tells us. It neglects to tell us that he's the author of the recent book "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto" which extols the virtues of nuclear energy and genetic engineering and other controversial items to fight the impact of global warming. As a young man, he served his country in WWII in addition to studying design and biology at undergraduate levels. Oh yes, and he was engaged as a subject in early LSD experiments of the legitimately scientific variety. Tom Wolfe goes so far as to profile Brand in the early chunk of his famous book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test".
Mr. Brand is all for nuclear energy. Since the film does not show him dropping tabs of acid, it's safe to assume he didn't drop any prior to his interviews nor, for that matter, prior to his change of heart on the matter of nukes. (Personally, I would have to drop a few tabs of acid before I ever changed my mind on this issue, but shucks, as Jimmy Cagney oft-proclaims in the classic film Strawberry Blonde, "That's just the kind of hairpin I am.")
Richard Rhodes is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and self-proclaimed Liberal Democrat. That's what the film tells us. What it neglects to mention is that he prefers to label his non-fiction writings rather pretentiously as "verity". Later on in the film, Mr. Rhodes who, by the way, earned his undergraduate academic distinction with honours after four years at Yale University, explains his credentials as an expert in the field of pro-nuclear power.
Says Mr. Rhodes: "The only reason I changed my mind [from anti-nuke to pro-nuke] was that I talked to experts, physicists in particular, who were the pioneers of nuclear energy."
I think this is great! Don't you? He talked to experts about it. Let's not forget that Clint Eastwood's character talked "to the trees" in Paint Your Wagon and certainly, whilst Mr. Rhodes did not talk to the trees, he talked to physicists who are, by and large, more engaging conversationalists than Scotch Pines. I've talked to physicists too. I've even read some books by physicists. They seem to be very nice and smart people. I, however, am not an expert in the field of nuclear energy. Mr. Stone clearly feels Mr. Rhodes is by including him in this film.
Mr. Rhodes is all for nuclear eneergy.
The list of experts Mr. Stone has assembled continues:
Gwyneth Cravens is a pro-nuclear activist, novelist, noted fiction editor and the author of "Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy".
Mark Lynas holds a degree in history and politics from the University of Edinburgh and describes himself as an environmental activist and communicator. He authored "Gem Carbon Counter", "High Tide: The Truth About Our Climate Crisis", "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet" and "The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans". In addition to nuclear power, Lynas was formerly against GMO food, but now he's all for it.
Michael Shellenberger, president and co-founder of The Breakthrough Institute, an environmental policy advisor, Public Relations firm magnate, co-editor of "Love Your Monsters" and co-author of "Break Through" and "The Death of Environmentalism". He's not a scientist, but he sure knows a lot about this nuclear stuff.
These are all reasonable human beings. Mr. Stone makes sure to present them as such.
Mr. Stone, however, makes sure to provide us with dollops of Helen Caldicott in shaky-cam all through his film as she shrieks into megaphones. In addition to being one of the world's leading anti-nuke activists, Ms. Caldicott is a doctor - a pediatrician to be precise. Not a single one of the aforementioned individuals are doctors or scientists. They are, however, experts - professional experts. You know, when I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd always say, "I want to be an expert." But, I digress.
One of the only genuine experts used in the film, though his view would naturally be positive, is the brilliant nuclear engineer Len Koch who talks about his work at the world's first nuclear plant and some of the genuinely progressive work and experiments done in the field.
One of the more truly offensive sequences in the film is when it focuses upon the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. It tries to present the "facts" that the results of this tragedy were minimal and cites a number of backup documentation which, though the movie scoffs at the suggestion, are little more than studies cobbled together by conspiratorial forces linked to corporate interests.
The film completely ignores the fact that organizations like Greenpeace and Children of Chornobyl have done their due diligence. The latter organization, in particular, has linked with doctors, scientists and health professionals from all over the world to both prove and assist with the tragedies of this sad event that occurred April 26, 1986 and the horrific aftermath.
What the film chooses to ignore are the facts as outlined by the Children of Chornobyl organization:
"Chornobyl has directly affected the lives of over 3 million people, 1/3 of them children.Stone and his so-called "experts" would like us to believe that the only consequences of this disaster are, comparatively, a drop in the bucket.
- 40,000 individuals who were involved in the clean-up of the reactor, most of them men in their 30's and 40's, have since died.
- the incidence of leukemia and other blood disorders has increased, especially in children.
- cardiac problems, chronic skin conditions and respiratory illness have increased.
- thyroid cancer is occurring in rates that are 80 times higher than normal.
- 50% of men between the ages of 13 and 29 have problems with fertility - this is the highest infertility rate in the world.
- chromosomal damage is 7 times higher in children born to men who were involved in liquidating the reactor, including Down's syndrome, cleft palate and other deformities.
- there is a high rate of miscarriages and birth defects have nearly doubled.
- infant mortality is twice that of the European average.
- Many families continue to live in lands contaminated by low levels of radiation and radioactivity is gradually seeping into the water table. So the consequences of Chornobyl are not yet over. Many cancers develop years after exposure to radiation, so the full medical impact of Chornobyl is still to be felt. Psychological consequences and the need for psychosocial rehabilitation are just starting to be recognized and addressed, including the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and drug abuse in this population."
As an alternate source of power, the film goes out of its way to suggest that societies which consume the most power have a better standard of living. The movie completely and utterly dismisses the notion of the world learning how to regulate their use of power and to educate individuals on how to use less power. Even more egregiously, the film outright refutes the idea of solar and wind energy as a viable alternative and that these technologies only serve the interests of oil companies to provide backup sources of power.
The film furthermore insults and vilifies a truly great woman like Helen Caldicott while dismissing the work of Greenpeace to further the needs and interests of nuclear power corporations.
The Soviets used Sergei Eisenstein to extol the virtues of the butcher Joseph Stalin. The Nazis used Leni Riefenstahl to extol the virtues of the butcher Adolph Hitler.
Stone, however, is extolling the virtues of a whole new butcher, a whole new Totalitarian force - corporations. Thankfully and proudly, as a Canadian, I'm grateful to our country's fine filmmaker Charles Wilkinson for his stunning film Peace Out and its followup feature Oil Sands Karaoke that both offer powerful, persuasive, but also intelligently balanced explorations into the issue of power, power consumption and the environmental devastation that greedy power consumption is causing. Neither of Wilkinson's movies have the overall slickness and budget levels of Stone's disingenuous effort but they're generated - so to speak - with passion, integrity and artistry. Pandora's Promise, on the other hand, promotes evil and does so with a very high level of skill.
By all means, see Stone's film, but know that he might just as well have populated it with experts resembling such fictional characters as Jethro "I wants tuh be a brain surgeon" Bodine and Granny "She be the best at doctorin'" Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies.
"Pandora's Promise" plays theatrically at Toronto's Hot Docs Bloor Cinema. Mr. Stone will participate in a Q&A on July 13, 2013. For tickets, playdates, showtimes at the Bloor click HERE. "Peace Out" can be viewed in the USA at Gaiam TV HERE and in Canada at IndieCan HERE. "Oil Sands Karaoke" is being distributed by Indie-Can Entertainment and will be released later in 2013.