Scary Hope: The Nuclear Cinema of Summer 2010

By Tyler Wigg-Stevenson 07-27-2010

Back in the late '90s, when Y2K fears were running rampant, apocalyptic fantasies like Armageddon and End of Days burned up the box office. That anxiety fizzled when 2000 came and went with nary a global shutdown.

In 2010, however, two new releases highlight a rising danger that's all too real. And, if Hollywood is an effective barometer of ideas whose time has come, Nuclear Tipping Point and Countdown to Zero both shine a klieg light on renewed awareness of the threat of nuclear weapons -- and why experts are saying that their complete elimination is both necessary and possible in our time.

Nuclear Tipping Point, which premiered at Universal Studios and screened recently at the White House, has made waves in serious policy circles. This should come as no surprise, given the hour-long documentary's dramatis personae: a who's who of foreign policy hawks like George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and others, whose commitment to national security has led them to become champions of concrete steps to reduce nuclear dangers while seeking the complete elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Countdown to Zero -- which debuted at Sundance and has been terrifying audiences at screenings from Q to Cannes to an in-house movie night for Sojourners staff -- aims to introduce a whole new generation to the danger of nuclear weapons. Featuring interviews with nuclear experts and would-be uranium smugglers alike, this feature-length documentary by director Lucy Walker is the latest offering from the Oscar-winning team of Participant Films and producer Lawrence Bender. Countdown, which boasts an accompanying social action campaign, opened to sold-out houses and rave reviews in New York and Washington, D.C. last Friday, and will begin showing in theaters nationwide over the next two weeks.

Given the grim topic, the title of The New York Times' joint review -- "It's Time to Start Worrying Again" -- is no surprise. But both films are also profound messages of hope for moviegoers watching through the lens of faith. As Jim Wallis wrote recently, the danger of nuclear weapons demands a movement from morally-driven faith communities.

Andy Campbell, executive director for small groups at Fairfax Community Church, put it well after seeing Countdown on opening night: "For Christians to add their voice to the growing chorus calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, we must first understand what is at stake and what the response must be."

So check out two summer thrillers that don't need fiction to raise goose bumps -- and then channel that fear through the hope-fueled obedience of Christian discipleship.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine and the founding director of the Two Futures Project (Twitter @2FP). For more information, visit the Two Futures Project's film sites: Nuclear Tipping Point (order a free copy of the film, download discussion guides, view trailers, and more); Countdown to Zero (links to showtimes, discussion guides and film clips, trailers, and a social action campaign).

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