"Building Bombs" and "Deadly Deception"
1992 Directed by Susan Robinson, Mark Mori, Debra Chasnoff. Narrated by Jane Alexander.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 3, 1992
Hot on the heels of having won the well-deserved Academy Award for Best Documentary Short only a couple of days ago, Chasnoff's Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons & Our Environment is making a timely appearance in Austin. The half-hour video deconstructs the feel-good image of General Electric which purports to “bring good things to life.” It contrasts GE's mythologizing ad campaign with the realities of its involvement in the nuclear weapons industry. GE would prefer for us to think of it as a friendly world citizen who improves our lives by putting technology at the service of human needs and demands. What this soothing ad campaign cloaks is the GE that derives one-sixth of its revenue from defense contracts and the irradiated workers and their families who work in and live near GE's nuclear facilities. The documentary opens with the testimony of people who lived near GE's Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington state during the Fifties when GE released, both intentionally and unintentionally, radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. The amount released was greater than the amounts released at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, yet no one was evacuated or even warned of the danger. One survivor takes us for a drive down Death Mile where 27 of 28 families have suffered birth defects or cancer. Only information gained through the Freedom of Information Act began answering some of their questions. From there, the video switches its focus to GE's Knolls Atomic Power Lab in Schenectady and introduces further testimony, as well as presenting the repercussions faced by an employee whistle-blower. Commissioned by INFACT, the group that organized the original Nestlé boycott, Deadly Deception's presentation of all this information has very clear objectives: the popularizing and encouragement of the boycott of GE products. It implores us to consider GE's practices when in the market for appliances like refrigerators or toasters, or when watching programs like Late Night with Letterman or the evening news withTom Brokaw (GE owns NBC as well as RCA). This call to action, in fact, is what I like best about Deadly Deception. It's something that Building Bombs never approaches, with its 55-minute long presentation of facts about weapons stockpiling and nuclear waste at Du Pont's Savannah River plant near Aiken, South Carolina. Narrated by Jane Alexander and nominated last year for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature, the movie takes a look at the effect that nuclear weapons construction has had on the area. One witness states that when the plant first opened it was “like the gold rush,” with workers pouring into the sparsely populated, rural area. Now the disillusioned tell of their rare diseases and contaminated groundwater. Building Bomb's most disturbing moment is the footage of Du Pont's standard practice of burying low level nuclear waste packed in cardboard boxes in shallow trenches and shoveling over them. Also on the bill with these documentaries are three animated shorts: Nukie Takes a Valium, Manic Denial, and Leaving the Poisons Behind.