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A Guide to Nuclear Detonation at Tribeca Film Festival

An inside look at 'the bomb', an immersive documentary experience of atomic proportions.

A flash of light, a thunderclap, a searing heat, and then… The world changes. For many, born just decades before, this ungodly chemistry, a nuclear detonation, was all-but-too-luckily avoided. Like a dance partner who has returned to the fray but one drink more corporeal, the specter of nuclear weapons hangs in the shadows for the rest of us, an all-but-inevitability we recognize but refuse to acknowledge. With over 15,000 nuclear weapons in arsenals around the world, each with various, often questionable levels of security, it's not too hard to imagine a device getting into the wrong hands and altering the course of history forever. 

Determined to bring this looming threat back into the public consciousness, inspired by author Eric Schlosser's urgent read, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, directors Smriti Keshari and Kevin Ford, alongside artist Stanley Donwood and the Kingdom of Ludd, set out to create a film that would go beyond the linear documentary experience; instead of simply showing the realities of nuclear omnipresence, they wanted audiences to feel it. The result is the bomb, an immersive documentary experience that situates a poetic, 55-minute film inside a 360-degree audiovisual installation by United Visual Artists (UVA), eight 30-foot-tall screens in the round, scored live by indie supergroup The Acid.

In anticipation of the bomb's Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere on April 23 and 24 at Gotham Hall, The Creators Project spoke to UVA about the immersive documentary experience. 

'the bomb', Inside a nuclear weapon missile. Image courtesy of Smriti Keshari

The Creators Project: First off, can you tell me about how UVA came to be involved with the bomb

United Visual Artists (UVA): We were approached directly by Smriti back in May 2015. She happened to be in London the following week and came into the studio. The conversation evolved from there. 

What are your personal relationships to things like nuclear safety/scares, proliferation, and disarmament? Is it something you thought about before, or something on your minds now? 

We’re of that generation where it’s always been on our minds and in the news so yes, we definitely thought about it. But reading Eric’s books and really examining documents and images threw nuclear warfare and safety into sharper relief. It makes you realise that mankind could just sleepwalk into oblivion if we don't confront the realities.

What opportunities and obstacles did the project present? 

Opportunities — from an education point of view, it’s been a real opportunity working with fascinating and important material; Command and Control (we also read Gods of Metal) and also having access to a lot of the primary source information that Eric had gathered as part of his research for the books. And then obviously a lot of the archive footage is incredibly powerful. If not disturbing... 

'the bomb', Inside a nuclear weapon missile. Image courtesy of Smriti Keshari

Can you talk about how it evolved, from initial sketches through to the final version? 

We began with an initial period of immersing ourselves in countless images of nuclear bunkers, tests, blueprints, documents and of course Command and Control. From there we developed a spatial design as a framework for the presentation of the film and live performance. We simulated the whole experience in 3D so that we could all understand how the film would translate to multiple screens. To use the whole space as a single canvas. 

What are some past UVA projects that the bomb could not have been possible without, and why? 

Our practice has often included a marriage of both physical and computational elements, encompassing large-scale temporary and permanent installations, small-scale artwork editions and live performance based projects. the bomb relies on this combination ... to go beyond the sum of the parts. 

United Visual Artists, The eight 30 foot screens will surround the audience as the Acid plays in the center of the space. Image courtesy of Smriti Keshari

In relation to the film, what do you think the power is “in the round” vs. just being on-screen? 

It's a completely different thing. And the film was created with that in mind from the outset. You're not watching The Acid play in front of a screen. You're all in it together and you're completely surrounded. 

What do you hope the experience achieves? 

Hopefully the audience will feel what Smriti and Eric were most insistent on when they briefed us, a sense of epicness, awe, perhaps alarm and that the whole experience is thought-provoking. When Smriti first wrote to us she had in mind “a visual cocoon that intersects with the music” and during development the word ‘visceral’ came up often. So that’s what the entire team has aimed for. 

the bomb makes its World Premiere at The Tribeca Film Festival on April 23, 24 inside Gotham Hall, 1356 Broadway, New York, NY 10018. Purchase tickets for the bomb now: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/bomb-2016

Image courtesy of Smriti Keshari

VICE is a supporting editorial partner of the bomb and Tribeca Film Festival. 

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