When Documentary Filmmaking Meets Academia – Screening ‘The Atom: A Love Affair’ at ISR

Vicki Lesley

As those who attended the recent ISR online screening of my film The Atom: A Love Affair heard in the lively discussion that followed, making this documentary has been an epic undertaking for me.

When I set out to investigate the renewed push for nuclear power back in the late 00’s, I had no idea that the social and political history of this contested energy source would end up consuming more than a decade of my professional life.

The journey was a long one partly for practical reasons – raising the finance for an independent film is notoriously difficult and I was still working my main job in TV, as well as having two babies along the way.

But there were unexpected benefits too, chief amongst them the freedom I had to follow whichever research paths interested me the most, without pressure from a broadcaster to produce a stereotypically combative film focusing on the same old ‘hot button’ issues (safety, waste, climate change etc). I wanted to do something different, exploring the deeper forces motivating all those involved in nuclear power, on whatever ‘side,’ from the geopolitical to the emotional.

I had little money, but I did have time. I was also fortunate to be invited to a series of meetings and workshops for an AHRC-funded project at Birkbeck College on ‘Material Cultures of Energy’ and a follow up project from the Science Museum where I met Edge Hill University’s Dr Phillipa Holloway, leading to the ISR screening.

The interaction with academia has been one of the real pleasures of making this film.  

Although the film is aimed at a general audience, I’ve been deeply gratified by the response from the academic community so far – the post-screening discussions after university screenings have without exception been extremely stimulating, as those attending have been able to draw out connections between the stories and characters in the film and their own work.

I also have a vast resource of unreleased interview footage – I interviewed about 50 different contributors for an average of 2 hours each so the material that made it into the final cut of The Atom: A Love Affair is really only the tip of the iceberg. I wonder if this material might be of use to any researchers out there – maybe even someone reading this blog? It would certainly be a wonderful coming full circle if at the end of the film’s long journey, and I might be able to make my own small contribution to the academic record in some way.

The Atom: A Love Affair, directed by Vicki Lesley, is available to stream at vimeo.com/ondemand/theatomaloveaffair You can contact Vicki directly at vicki@tennerfilms.com or find out more about the film via her website at https://theatomfilm.com

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