When Activists Make Movies: The Nuclear Arms Race is Relevant Again With ‘Fallout’ (Guest Blog)

When Activists Make Movies: The Nuclear Arms Race is Relevant Again With 'Fallout' (Guest Blog)

The documentary details the making of Stanley Kramer's epic “On the Beach”

You wouldn't know that Kat Kramer was an activist. The daughter of director Stanley Kramer (above, second from right) looks as if she'd be more comfortable on the cover of Vogue than she would in a cramped editing room, poring over footage of films that, in her estimation, “change the world.”

One such film that efforts to do just that premiered a few weeks ago at the famed Sunset-Gower Studios lot, where ironically her father filmed 15 of his 35 motion pictures. Then known as Columbia Pictures, the fabled lot stands nestled between newly constructed steel-and-glass high rises and massage parlors. It was a fitting venue whose significance was lost on nobody; a snapshot of an era that was symptomatic of Cold War apprehension and the feeling of dread that an impending Nuclear Holocaust can impart.

“Fallout's” North American Premiere didn't serve to assuage any lingering feelings of paranoia that may creep upon us like the waves of radioactive effluence inching toward us courtesy of the Fukishima Nuclear Plant. Instead, “Fallout” details the making of Stanley Kramer's epic “On the Beach” — adapted from the fertile mind of Nevil Shute's novel of a post-apocalyptic world where radiation is transmitted through the air by conventional means, and not delivered in today's perverse world through suitcase, Dodge Caravan, or irradiated Twinkies.

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“Fallout” is about a movie about “the bomb” — and its relevance to today is staggering.

We have advanced, (or declined?) almost 60 years since “On the Beach” was made. We have traded Kruschev's banging of a shoe on a desk to the movements of a computer mouse in the hands of misguided high school savant's Googling “how to construct a nuclear bomb.”

Although technology has leveled the playing field, the message is the same: “We will bury you.”

It wasn't enough for Kat Kramer to screen the film. She brought in Dr. Helen Caldicott (above, second from left), a stern, school-marmish woman who for over 40 years has defined the term “activist.” Dr. Caldicott's no stranger to the threat of nuclear terror. Following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, Dr. Caldicott left her well-established medical career to concentrate on calling the world's attention to what she refers to as the “insanity” of the nuclear arms race and our growing reliance on nuclear power.

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In a furtive meeting of the minds where nuclear activist joins forces with entertainment industry activist, sparks fly without the help of nuclear fission. And so it was at the “Fallout” premiere.

I found myself sitting among a throng of journalists who had engaged Kat's mother, Karen Kramer, in a discussion on Stanley Kramer's own role as an activist who used cinema to affect social change. As the director of “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,” Kramer invented the notion of diversity. My admiration for Mr. Kramer goes beyond the fact that we share the same birthday. I was brought up on his work: “Judgement at Nuremberg” (1961), “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963) and an unforgettable movie that my mother insisted that I see, “Ship of Fools.”

Each film peeled back the veneer of human interaction and presented it in often disquieting, and certainly fascinating, ways. As we were numbed by images of Vietnamese children Napalmed and burning, or emboldened by The Beatles to expand our consciousness, Stanley Kramer made films that asked us to look within ourselves.

A perfect direction for those who would carry that torch and change the world.

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Kat Kramer seems not to suffer fools gladly, and seems to be usually on the receiving end of criticism. Some people don't get it. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she is able to navigate the waters of advocacy like she navigates the red carpet. Her series, “Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World,” has changed the world. Like the film “Fallout,” the contemplation of what exactly would our world be like after a disaster is once again put on the front burner — and all it takes is one person to be singed by the truth for change to occur.

I asked Kat if being an activist in today's motion picture industry has changed since the days of Jane Fonda's photo op with the North Vietnamese.

“Yes, because Jane was ahead of her time with her risks, and over the past few decades activism and the entertainment industry have joined forces on many levels. Today, almost every high-profile entertainment figure is involved with a cause. But there will always be those who don't use their celebrity to speak out, those who prefer to play it safe.”

Is there a sense of complacency in Hollywood?

“I think because there are so many controversial issues to address, some are afraid to become too involved. That is why I want to follow in my father's footsteps in my own small way, and address those issues through film with my cinema series “Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World.”

jerry.mathersIn a surreal moment of idolization, Jerry Mathers (at left, with the author) gave me probably the most lucid and thought-provoking quote regarding the subject matter that “Fallout” deals with. As a child who grew up in the studio system, Mathers was a part of the Los Angeles City School's professional actors studio sessions during the time of the all-too-familiar “drop drill” exercise that found giggling kids sheltering themselves under school desks.

I asked the Beav how today is different from when we were kids, as far as the nuclear discussion goes:

“Back then we were closer to WWII and the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We knew the destructive power. Now, time blurs memories and people don't realize how devastating those weapons are. The kilotons in nuclear bombs today dwarf the power of nuclear bombs when we grew up. I had a schoolteacher from the L.A. Unified School District who knew exactly the potential of devastation that any disaster — nuclear, earthquake, etc. would have on the studio. We were in our own world where heavy lighting equipment would dangle over our head, and a studio hospital was only steps away.”

“Today, we seem to be on our own.”

Thanks Kat for bringing awareness in an industry that is more prone to “Hangover III” than hard-hitting documentaries.

  • Townshend

    Great to see Kat recognized for what she does so well. Activism does not have to come at the expense of entertainment.

  • Lois

    The threat of nuclear war hasn't left. Our values and concerns may have changed though. We are in more danger than ever before.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christina-Macpherson/100001582350337 Christina Macpherson

    Great to see Kat Kramer making a film that sounds as if it's intelligent, relevant and entertaining. What a relief from the usual formulaic Hollywood stuff that assumes that audiences are of low IQ.!

  • Rhotel1

    Given that we no longer sit on a hair trigger with the former Soviet Union, I am not sure why this film claims to be that relevant to today. We have learned much. There are far fewer nuclear weapons in the world and there is little likelihood of a WW-III like nuclear exchange that would render the earth uninhabitable. Fukushima does not threaten the US. It never has. There also was no fallout from Fukushima. There were atmospheric releases of relatively low boiling point fission products and there has been an ongoing problem with radioactively contaminated cooling water. Neither of these are fallout. Fallout is deadly. That is because it consists of highly radioactive materials created by the fireball of a nuclear weapon touching the earth, those materials being pulverized and vaporized by blast and fire, and then being swept upwards into the mushroom cloud. In that process, these normally non-radioactive materials go through a cloud of neutrons that they absorb making them radioactive with extremely short half-lives. These materials emit intense gamma radiation but quickly decay so that they will be effectively gone in two weeks. That is why we had fallout shelters, to protect us from that intense gamma radiation for two weeks. Our principal fear of that happening now is if a terrorist organization is able to detonate a crude nuclear weapon at ground level in a major city. That will create intense fallout and people will be ill prepared to survive it. I look forward to watching this documentary since the threat of nuclear war was very large when I was younger.

  • Blueberryash

    Rhotel1 – which planet are you on – you do not sound like a threatened species from this eart!

  • Egg Man

    This is good and important post, sir. There is now a new US$1 million literary prize being offered for a climate themed novel in the future called the ”The Nevil Shute-like Literary Award for Climate-Themed Novels” and The Nevil Shute-like Literary Award for Climate-Themed Novels is Offering a US$1 million purse for a powerful climate-themed novel written by an Australian in the 21st Century
    QUESTION FROM MEDIA: Where are you going to get the money for this prize, to the tune of US$1,000,000? ANSWER: ”We are actively canvassing wealthy individuals who made their money in tech and other industries to provide seed money for this award, including the founders of PayPal, Ebay, Telsa and others. The money will come. If you build it, they will come.”

    SYDNEY AUSTRALIA — January 14, 2014

    Says prize organizer, Danny Bloom, a climate activist from the USA based in Asia since 1991: “We want the arts to take, and be seen to take, their proper place in our social priorities.”

    ”What Nevil Shute's 1957 novel ”ON THE BEACH” did for public awareness worldwide of nuclear war and nuclear winter issues is what the The Nevil Shute-like Literary Award for Climate-Themed Novels is all about. We are looking for that person or persons who want to write this kind of wake up call novel set in any country they wish to set it, or in a series of nations, and set in the present or near future.”