We talk to filmmaker Lucy Walker about her latest documentary, Countdown to Zero...
Written and directed by Lucy Walker, Countdown to Zero traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs: nine nations possessing nuclear weapons capabilities with others racing to join them, with the world held in a delicate balance that could be shattered by an act of terrorism, failed diplomacy, or a simple accident.
LOVEFILM: With this coming out and Waste Land – it’s turning out to be a pretty interesting 2011 for you...
Lucy Walker: Yeah, it has. I’m a lucky girl, because 2010 was pretty amazing, 2009 was also pretty wild. So it’s all pretty crazy.
LF: Where did the idea come from to touch on this subject?
LW: It was Participant Media’s idea (the production company behind Food Inc. and Oceans). They didn’t have a script or anything, but they called me up and asked me if I was interested in the subject. I went off and did some research, and then said “Definitely, I’d love to make the film.” Then I had to go off and do a lot more research to make it.
LF: So what was your ultimate objective when touching on this? What did you hope that people would take away by watching a documentary?
LW: Ultimately I think the film shows you that no matter what you thought about nuclear war before, with the Cold War with mutual assured destruction and the fear of USA and USSR having nuclear weapons, whatever you thought about that situation, the situation we’re in right now is much scarier. (We’re) looking at a world where potentially many countries have nuclear weapons, so it’s no longer a case of a choice between a few nuclear weapon states and not the others.
LF: It’s quite frightening...
LW: It’s definitely frightening, but it’s definitely taking encouragement from the fact that the new START treaty just got ratified, which is great.
LF: One of the most eye-opening moments of the documentary is the hypothetical nuclear explosion, because it clearly states what exactly would happen. Did you always intend to have that example in the documentary and did you feel it was necessary to really drum home the consequences of nuclear war?
LW: It was part of the plan. I wanted to save the actual explosion until the end of the film, where you’re reminded about what this stuff is and then you get this really graphic explanation about what an explosion would entail. I wanted to do it (just) once and get it horrifyingly.
LF: When you’re making a film like this, how easy is it for you to switch off?
LW: It was pretty hard definitely, you know when I wasn’t losing sleep, I was watching or reading about nuclear weapons. It was definitely a tough one.
LF: As a female filmmaker, how easy is it for you working in the industry and can you give any advice to any other women who want to get into the industry, because it’s a tough nut to crack...
LW: I guess my trick was I just said I was going to try and do the best work I possibly could. I felt like if I kept doing good work, then hopefully an opportunity would come along. I just really encouraged myself to keep going. I think that’s probably still true today, it can definitely be overwhelming or discouraging, or annoying sometimes.
LF: You were nominated for an Oscar for Waste Land, how was that process and how did it feel to be nominated?
LW: It was wonderful. A film about garbage in Portuguese isn’t an easy sell, and so to be recognised by the Academy was absolutely an incredible experience.
LF: How do you keep your energy levels up?
LW: My energy levels aren’t always up, I wish they were! I don’t know, I feel very lucky to be able to make these films and very motivated to try and depict the people accurately in the films and show what’s going on. I feel very thankful to be able to make these films I must say.