The nuclear abolition documentary, Countdown to Zero, opens today in New York and D.C. amid positive reviews, and a major promo push featuring one of its expert witnesses and narrators, Valerie Plame Wilson. A rollout starts next week across the U.S. Here at Media Fix we’ve been writing about the film for weeks now, and yesterday posted the PSA "call to action" featuring producer Lawrence Bender (who earlier gave us both Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds).
Last night I caught up with Plame via my red phone. She was wrapping up her tour in Los Angeles, not far from the home she shares with husband Joe Wilson and their twins in Santa Fe. Earlier in the day came news that the film Fair Game, based on her memoir and directed by Doug Liman, will be released on November 5 (and we’ve covered this film a lot here, too). It stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn and received a mixed response at Cannes not long ago.
Countdown to Zero focuses on half a dozen different reasons to be scared out of our wits about nukes, ranging from terrorists getting their hands on the raw materials or finished bomb to an accidental launch or one plotted by rogue generals (perhaps even junior officers down in the silos).
Interviewees range from policy wonks to Mikhail Gorbachev, interspersed with zingy graphics and music as previously displayed in Inconvenient Truth. Wilson appears mainly in the first half of the film, testifying to the terrorist threat and proliferation, but I asked her which of the threats worried her the most.
“I wouldn’t want to rank them,” she replied. While her area of expertise was the terrorism/proliferation "nexus," she finds all of the other threats troubling: “As we saw from the BP oil spill, low-probability events are still possible.” So, the “premise of the film is to drain the swamp” of nuclear weapons. “The only rational way to proceed is toward zero," she declares.
"With the CIA I saw damn close how hard terrorists are working to get nuclear weapons – and that is damn scary. But we don’t want to scare people into inaction. The whole point of film is to get people to talk about this issue. ”
A baffling NPR review of the film found its call to action a waste of time since lobbyists, protesters and petition signers in the U.S. won’t have any effect in, say, Iran or North Korea. This, of course, misses the point of the film: that the existence of 23,000 nuclear warheads in this world, even after the end of the Cold War, provides an almost endless amount of nuclear material that can acquired by the Iranians and North Koreans, not to mention al-Qaeda and others.
“No one is suggesting that North Korea and Iran will fall right into line,” she affirmed. “I’d love to have showings of this in downtown Tehran but that’s not likely to happen.” Still, the film, she says, presents “well thought out, planned, orchestrated steps to get to zero. Reagan was right: trust but verify. And you need to build international consensus. This isn’t going to happen on Tuesday but needs to start now.”