After the Apocalypse
Barry Gibb considers a new documentary looking at nuclear weapons, radiation, eugenics and reproductive ethics.
There’s a lot of beauty in After the Apocalypse, a new Trust-supported documentary from director Antony Butts. But there’s also a lot of ugliness – a dark, pervasive nastiness – that takes a while to develop, to make itself visible.
Certainly the Kazakhstan landscapes are beautiful, Butts has done a fantastic job of capturing the sun-kissed snowy vistas. However, this idyllic view is marred by the high levels of invisible radiation – the result of nuclear weapons testing conducted by the Soviet Union – penetrating anyone prepared to stay there long enough. The director’s guides – local sheep farmers – swig vodka as they move through the crisp snow with a screaming radiation monitor, mouthing a belief that the spirit offers protection from the radioactive fallout.
Butt introduces us to a family on the brink of welcoming a new member. This is a beautiful moment in anyone’s life, but the expectant mother, Bibigul, was born with facial disfigurement, possibly due to the background radiation of her environment. This has aroused the suspicions of a doctor at the local maternity clinic, who believes that Bibigul will give birth to a ‘deformed’ child.
The doctor, Nurmagambetov, appears keen to do the right thing. He takes us to an orphanage that tends to abandoned, disabled children – innocent, unwanted lives. Over the course of the film, however, we gain a deeper insight into Nurmagambetov’s darker motivations, culminating in a scene so painful to watch, you wish you could reach out to Bibigul and comfort her.
During the Soviet era, this place and all the people and animal life living there, became unwilling participants in nuclear testing. Knowingly, methodically, nuclear weapons were detonated in this populated region to study the effects on the living survivors. Many of the film’s subjects believe the effects of this are still affecting today’s generation, years after the USSR disbanded. Whether this is the case is debatable – scientists insist that the radiation cannot be the major cause of so many birth defects, especially not so long after the bombs were dropped (this was also one of the discussion points arising in the Q&A with scientists and ethicists that followed the premiere screening). However, there’s no doubt that the people of this region blame the bombs for their woes. And whatever the cause, the problems they struggle with today are very real.
This is a film filled with tarnished beauty and corrupt souls, where good and beauty must fight to prevail. And in the midst of this fight is Bibigul and her beautiful, unborn child.
After the Apocalypse is on a limited tour of UK cinemas and will air on More4 later in the year. For more details see http://www.aftertheapocalypsemovie.com/