Directed by: Douglas Brian Miller, Mark Shapiro
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Maria Athayde
928 is the number of nuclear weapons the United States government detonated over a 41-year period in Mercury, Nevada. Narrated by Martin Sheen “Downwind” chronicles the fallout from these tests. The documentary explored the US nuclear program’s history and the impact it had on people living near the testing sites. “Downwinders” as they are colloquially known are the individuals who reside in certain areas located downwind from the Nevada testing site in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.
The most striking aspect of “Downwind” was the disregard for the people living downwind from the testing sites. The documentarians most rely on personal accounts of those who have been affected by these tests and exposure to radiation. Ian Zabarte, Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians, explains how family members passed away due to exposure to radiation. Zabarte said that radiation is something that permeates and just stays there. Claudia Peterson, a social worker based in Saint George, Utah, also chronicles her experiences and family deaths including her 6-year-old daughter Bethany who died of cancer. One of the most harrowing accounts comes from Patrick Wayne, son of silver screen legend John Wayne, who described how 110 members out of the 220 cast and crew members of “The Conquer” died from cancer due to their exposure to radiation during the filming in Utah.
Despite these personal stories the documentary never felt overly manipulative. An exposé, of sorts, “Downwind” revealed the unethical nature of the US nuclear testing program. It is never surprising, but always shocking to see how the United States government exposed unsuspecting citizens to radiation. The fallout from these tests continues to affect people who live in and around the test site to this day. Overall, “Downwind” is a good introduction for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the nuclear testing program in the U.S. through the eyes of those who experienced its fallout firsthand.
“Downwind” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Slamdance Film Festival.
You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on Letterboxd, Serializd, Twitter, and view more of what she’s up to here.