Tick, tick, tick…
Following his Oscar-winning triumph An Inconvenient Truth, producer Lawrence Bender’s new awareness-raising documentary Countdown to Zero hones in on the world’s nuclear weapons and our frightening ongoing near-misses with atomic Armageddon. And we do mean frightening. Everyone from former Soviet prez Mikhail Gorbachev to US Secretary Of Defence Robert McNamara reveal how it’s a miracle that we’ve avoided nuclear war this long. Bender and director Lucy Walker talk disarmament, truth and Tarantino.
Is this the scariest documentary ever? Lawrence Bender: Telling the truth in this case is quite terrifying. We wanted to educate, motivate and mobilise.
Do you feel that the threat of nuclear war is no longer part of the cultural consciousness? Lucy Walker: I know, it’s amazing isn’t it? When I was a kid growing up in the ‘80s, my mum was talking about how she wanted to talk a pill when the bomb went off. My dad was worried he’d have to shoot the neighbours if he built a bomb shelter. My sister was planning escape routes through the fallout. And I think we weren’t alone: everyone was obsessed with the horror of nuclear weapons.
So what’s changed? Lawrence: You know, it’s interesting. If you’re graduating college today, you were born after the Berlin wall came down. And if you’re a little bit older like me, you remember school drills when you were a kid, diving under tables in case a nuclear bomb dropped on your city. Which we joke about now. But the cold war’s over, everyone’s forgotten about it. Young people don’t have any reason to think about it. It’s not something that’s on political agendas.
What are the odds of a nuclear catastrophe right now? Lawrence: Well, it’s scary. There’ve been so many near-accidents. The chance of an accident is very small. But if it can happen, it will. That’s why the Global Zero movement is so important: to eliminate all these weapons from the face of the earth, so it can’t happen and it won’t.
Could this documentary really make a difference? Lawrence Bender: I made An Inconvenient Truth, I produced that movie, so I got to see firsthand how a movie can educate and inspire people to make a difference. There are a lot of issues in the world. But there are probably two that could change life on a planetary basis: climate crisis and nuclear threat.
Have you had any feedback from celebrities who’ve seen the documentary? Lawrence Bender: Quentin Tarantino, my dear friend and partner in crime, saw the movie when we screened it at Quincy Jones’ house. He said, ‘This a movie that needs to be seen in a movie theatre.’ It was so nice to hear that. I didn’t ask him if he was scared by it…
Do you and Quentin have anything in the pipeline? Lawrence Bender: Well, he’s writing something soon, but that’s in his brain right now. That’s not for public consumption. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years now, since Reservoir Dogs, so it’s a collaboration that really works. The day that Quentin Tarantino calls me and says, ‘read my new script’ is the day I jump.