VISIONS DU REEL 2016: We live in a world in which large numbers of nuclear weapons are ready to launch. But what does a film artist such as Peter Greenaway have to say about this?
Peter Greenaway

Who knew that the film artist Peter Greenaway was even bothered about something as political as the nuclear threat? Whenever I meet this arrogant Brit, he is scolding people for their lack of ethical-visual understanding. As when he exclaimed, to an auditorium of 1,000 in Amsterdam, that almost everyone is visually illiterate! Greenaway frequently insults people, as in Nyon in April, where he in an old fashioned, or too contemporary manner, performed the same presentation to as many, again arrogant and too simplistic about film’s status quo: «Film is almost dead! » Today’s film industry «merely duplicates what is in the book stores! » You have to stop writing stories and instead make use of film’s new technological or digital possibilities. Originally an artist, something Greenaway repeatedly emphasises – it is more about what images we remember rather than the story itself.

This can also be seen in the short film Atomic Bombs on the Planet Earth (13 mins, 2011, see for excerpts), which Greenaway introduced during his April master class at the Visions du Reel documentary film festival in Switzerland. He frequently name drops French Jean-Luc Godard, which makes me recall that I once interviewed him at Trondheim’s Kosmorama; I mention Godard, whom he referred to in several texts. Greenaway glares up at me from the deep sofa he is buried in, to where I am sitting on a chair opposite. Bends his head backwards, stares at me from along his hooter – looks me straight up and down, and exclaims: «Godard! Why mention him? You sound like a student! » Well, I had already been at the helm of Morgenbladet for a decade, and I did pose relevant questions.

Mushroom clouds. Here we are in Nyon and Godard is yet again his idol. He pulls out the quotation «film is truth 24 times per second» – meaning the number of reality images, to which the audience’s documentary makers nod approvingly. Well. Atomic Bombs on the Planet Earth uses somewhat singular images, or rather short video clips which are fixed in varying sequences of 4-25 videos simultaneously shown on the screen. There are film excerpts from a series of nuclear tests explosions – as in the Bikini Atolls (see John Pilger’s article elsewhere), Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does anyone realise that there have been over 2,000 nuclear missile test explosions in the fifty years post the Hiroshima-bomb? Greenaway hints that the same amount may have occurred «on the sly» in the next 25 years until today. These could of course be more of a symbolic deterrent than actual «test explosions». Watching Greenaway present these in continuous succession for 13 minutes is hard to stomach. The soundscape is deafening, and up to 25 mushroom clouds enter as documentation. In the background we hear Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) repeat «You people cried» or «Most people were silent».

Following Greenaway’s his aesthetically-visual films, age may have made him increasingly socially responsible. Or is he driven by the joy of manipulating all the images, sounds and «boy-toy» mushroom clouds, colours, dates and names of explosions, or amount of megatons exploded? Both yes and no. Because Greenaway is wary of the new miniature-nuclear weapons behind the new nuclear weapons race. For instance, how China manufactures submarine drones featuring nuclear war heads which could easily pop up by large city waterfronts. He is concerned about the way in which we forget, how we do not see the hidden military efforts, how we believe that scare mongering creates a peaceful balance. We are almost forced into a nuclear migraine because of the madness accompanying these weapons. The film was awarded an honorary prize at the 2012 International Uranium Film Festival at Rio de Janeiro.

I promise you, dear reader, that in the next 25 years, another nuclear catastrophe will happen, with the weapon storages approved by foolish world leaders.

USA. The new nuclear race featuring miniature-nuclear bombs is sadly already under way. American, Israeli, Chinese and Russian politicians envisage the usage of «limited» nuclear weapons. The USA’s «hollow» President Obama – who, in Prague a couple of years ago, promised a world free from nuclear weapons – has started a new 1,000 billion Dollar nuclear weapons program. During an election campaign recently, Hillary Clinton indicated that she is unable to see the significance of  these efforts. But does anyone believe her – she who warned Iran that they may use nuclear weapons against it? And from presidential candidate Donald Trump’s camp: «We desperately need to modernise our decaying nuclear weapons arsenal. It must happen now. » Trump complains that the military force has shrunk from 2 to 1.3 million militaries over the last few years, that the USA marine fleet has halved and that the air force has been cut by one third. Trump almost shouts during the election campaign: «We will use all we need to rebuild our military! » His hollowness is evident as he in one place points to it being too many weapons in the world, whilst in another speech calls for more investment in nuclear – and cyber weapons.

Following the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the USA limited its nuclear weapon units from 30,000 to 7,100, and Russia from 40,000 to 7,700. Apparently, China possesses 250, and North-Korea about eight. We live in a world in which large numbers of nuclear weapons are ready to launch.

With such large amounts of weapons in the hands of arrogant power people, we will most likely experience a greater catastrophe in our time. Miniature-nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, be used by our allies or by enemies. Such a growing arsenal of smaller nuclear weapons could prove tempting for threats and usage alike. We are aware of the radiation which ensues as a result of such explosions, as with Chernobyl 30 years ago. I promise you, dear reader, that in the next 25 years, another nuclear catastrophe will happen, with the weapon storages approved by foolish world leaders.

Consequences. The Government has just approved the nuclear settlement in Adjustment 199 S (Innstilling 199 S), on global security challenges within foreign policy. A number of organisations recently sought a balanced and mutual disarmament, as part of this month’s OEWG-meeting (Open-Ended-Working-Group) on nuclear disarmament in UN in Geneva. Let us at Modern Times repeat the arguments issued by Norwegian Doctors against Nuclear Weapon, The Norwegian Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses and the Public Health Association:

A nuclear war would kill far more people within a few hours than during the entire Second World War; radioactive waste from nuclear explosions will cause cancer and disease in generations to come; usage of less than one percent of the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal would create global environmental disturbances followed by a catastrophic famine affecting more than a billion people, it could trigger a nuclear winter which would lead to global financial collapse due to extreme hypothermia. Furthermore; no health services exist which possess the necessary means needed for nuclear war survivors.

So, that’s it. Which will be the first city hit by a drone? Do check out Greenaway’s short film on the Modern Times’ site We do not wish to afflict migraine, but consider the real danger that certain Trump-like mythological-run power people from the West and the East are yet again exposing the world to.

Will another Cold War rhetoric lead to a nuclear winter?