The Atomic Cafe

86 minutes 9.3/10 based on 3 votes

The Atomic Cafe is an acclaimed documentary film about the beginnings of the era of nuclear warfare, created from a broad range of archival film from the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s – including newsreel clips, television news footage, U.S. government-produced films (including military training films), advertisements, television and radio programs.

News footage reflected the prevailing understandings of the media and public. The film was produced over a five-year period through the collaborative efforts of three directors: Jayne Loader, and brothers Kevin and Pierce Rafferty. For this film, the Rafferty brothers and Loader formed the production company “Archives Project Inc.” The filmmakers opted to not use narration, and instead they deployed carefully constructed sequences of film clips to make their points.

The soundtrack utilizes atomic-themed songs from the Cold War era to underscore the themes of the film.

Though the topic of atomic holocaust is a grave matter, the film approaches it with black humor. Much of the humor derives from the modern audience’s reaction to the old training films, such as the Duck and Cover film shown in schools.

The film was released in April 1982. Its release coincided with a peak in the international disarmament movement, and the film received much wider distribution than was the norm for politically-oriented documentaries. It rapidly became a cult classic, and greatly influenced documentary filmmaking. One of the filmmakers, Kevin Rafferty, was later befriended by a young Michael Moore who was seeking advice on how to make his first film Roger & Me.

Rafferty ended up becoming the cinematographer on the film and acting as a filmmaking mentor to Moore – who has acknowledged the influence on his own filmmaking. The UK premiere screening in the British House Of Commons in October 1982 tied the film to then ongoing debate in the UK about the deployment of the cruise missile against the Soviet threat. The film was also screened at the London Film Festival and nominated for a BAFTA award.

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  • KellyL

    Being young, I’ve never understood the fear of communists, but after watching this the fear is a bit more clear. How horrifying to think those commies were always out to get you. I wonder if my children will look back on my generation and wonder why in the world we were afraid of muslims. Always looks better in hindsight, I suppose.

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