Richland Film Screening and Discussion with Director Irene Lusztig

April 29, 2024
Masako Toki, Halle Shephard

Discussion with Irene Lusztig, the film director, moderated by Jean du Preez

Discussion with Irene Lusztig, the film director, moderated by Jean du Preez

On April 19, 2024, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey’s (MIIS) Office for Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion hosted the screening of the film, Richland. The screening was followed by a discussion with the film’s Director, Irene Lusztig, a filmmaker and Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California Santa Cruz. Lusztig enriched the event by delving into her work, which has been screened around the world.

The event began with an opening statement from CNS Senior Project Manager and Research Associate, Masako Toki. She briefly talked about CNS’ role as a global leader in nonproliferation, stressing the importance of youth education on nuclear issues. Next, CNS Graduate Research Assistant, Halle Shephard, read out the land acknowledgement for this event. After this, the film screening began. As its title suggests, the film is centered on Richland, a city located in the state of Washington. It houses the Hanford Site that produced weapons-grade plutonium for the Manhattan Project. The city is proud of its heritage as a nuclear company town and the atomic bomb it helped create. The 93-minute documentary film, Richland, presents a prismatic, placemaking picture of a town that is betting its identity and future on its nuclear origin.

Following the screening, CNS Program Director, Education and Training, Jean du Preez, engaged Lusztig in a discussion. He and the audience posed some interesting questions to Lusztig. The first question that du Preez posed was as to what made Lusztig interested in the town of Richland. She answered that she coincidentally spent time in Richland while working on another project. She added that, like most Americans, she was not aware of the former secret city before she ventured into making this film.

During the discussion, Lusztig spoke about how Richland differs from the film Oppenheimer, which came out after her film. She spoke about how she avoided including mushroom cloud ideology, which was used to romanticize the atomic bomb in Oppenheimer.

Following that, du Preez asked Lusztig about the generational divide between the elders and the youth when it comes to nuclear issues, as well as the Richland High School’s logo, a big green “R” over a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb. Lusztig found that, at times, the younger generation was able to think more critically and question what the mushroom cloud represents and whether or not that symbol should be ascribed to their community.

From the audience, Dr. Siegfried Hecker, Distinguished Professor of Practice, CNS, and the fifth Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, lauded Lusztig for producing an outstanding film. He spoke to how well-rounded Lusztig’s film was. He opined that the film accurately depicted the wide-ranging effects that the Hanford Site had on Richland.

During this session, Lusztig was asked as to what the future of Richland looks like and how they will move forward past the issues, such as contaminant cleanup, that the Hanford Nuclear Site has caused in the community. Lusztig stated that, due to different definitions of the word “cleanup,” there will be difficulty in dealing with contaminated areas in Richland. While those indigenous to the land want to preserve it in its natural, original form, the whole population of Richland does not necessarily agree. Lusztig also spoke about the artistic expressions of locals about the town. The local community members contributed to a published collection of emotional poems, Plume, and an archive of anxiety dreams of Hanford workers that was transformed into an opera performed in the B Reactor at the Hanford Site.

Please learn more about the film by visiting its website.

For the event recording, please watch this video (Links to full screen).

‘Richland’ Film Screening on Vimeo

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