Hot Docs ’11: After the Apocalypse

Posted: May 3, 2011 in Film Reviews, Hot Docs
Tags: , , , , ,

Family chronicled in After the ApocalypseAfter the Apocalypse addresses an incredibly contentious issue, asking several controversial questions to which there are no easy answers. However, director Antony Butts does not emerge on one side of the debate or the other; he simply shows both sides of the story so audiences can make their own decisions.

Between 1949 and 1991, the Soviet Union tested 456 nuclear and hydrogen bombs in what is now Kazakhstan. They did not evacuate the area of its approximately 200,000 residents. In fact, children used to play on and around the blast craters. They are now registered Polygon victims, named after the project that afflicted them. The radioactive fallout has caused various deformities and illnesses, which are now being passed on to second and third generations.

The sick still call the area home, farming and raising sheep and their families on the land. Although healthy children have been born to the family chronicled, the odds of a baby having a disability or illness is twice as high or one in 20. We discover the young woman being recorded is pregnant with what would be her second child. With what appears to be encouragement by the filmmakers, she goes to the government sponsored clinic for pregnant Polygon victims.

The doctors and nurses that run the clinic try to convince women to terminate their pregnancies – with or without the results of their amniocentesis. In interviews, the doctor refers to the deformed children of these families as monsters. He would like to introduce a type of passport required by parents before they can have kids; the goal is virtually a level of genetic cleansing for the nation. Other than the obvious health risks and social stigmas, the doctor is motivated by the number of afflicted children abandoned because of their conditions.

Another unsettling interview is conducted with a man who worked at a clinic established to assess victims of the nuclear testing. He explains that the government knew “everything,” from the types of radiation to the levels to how close people lived to the test site. They used this information to analyze the effects of the bombs. In other words, these people were unwilling recruits of an experiment.

This is not the most organized or well made documentary, but it does start an important conversation. It raises questions about whether having children is a right or privilege; the ethical implications or legitimacy of a genetic passport; and the poor manner in which these people are treated in comparison to non-Polygon victims. These questions can be even further extrapolated to issues regarding further advancements about genetic pre-determination in pregnancies.

After the Apocalypse is playing as part of Hot Docs on Friday, May 6 at 7:15 pm at Cumberland Theatre and Saturday, May 7 at 7 pm at Innis Town Hall.

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