Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by M.T. Silvia
Directed by M.T. Silvia
DVD, color, 80 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
American Studies, Asian Studies, Ethics, History, Human Rights, International Relations, Science, Women’s Studies, Military Studies, Peace Studies
Reviewed by Sarah B. Cornell, Daniel Webster College
Date Entered: 5/24/2012
Atomic Mom bridges the gap between the international implications of nuclear development during the Cold War and the mother/daughter relationship. Pauline Silvia joined the Navy in the early 1950s and was among the first women to research the medical effects of nuclear explosions. The filmmaker M.T. Silvia, on the other hand, joined the antinuclear movement in the early 1980’s at least in part because of her mother’s history. At the time, however, M.T. did not fully understand the implications of her mother’s work, either to her mother or to the United States’ nuclear program.
Pauline Silvia had already begun to have serious doubts about the wisdom of the research she conducted when she finally shared her Navy files with her daughter in the 1990s. Because Pauline was distressed by many of her memories, M.T. helped her come to terms with her actions by introducing her to other military personnel who had worked in nuclear development and with a Hiroshima survivor, Emiko Okada. Here the documentary provides a neat parallel: both mothers struggle with the legacy of the nuclear bomb, and both have become active in the peace movement.
The strength of Atomic Mom is that it expresses the Cold War, nuclear research, and even the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in very personal terms. Though none are explicitly stated in the documentary, it provides many opportunities for a viewer to consider what he or she would do in similar situations. Would you be able to conduct “thermal injuries” testing on mice? On dogs? Would you be able to forgive a woman who played any part at all in the development of nuclear weapons, one of which killed members of your immediate family? What responsibilities does the United States have to soldiers, civilians, and communities who experienced fallout during test explosions? For this reason the reviewer recommends Atomic Mom not just for women’s studies, peace studies, or Cold War studies courses, but also for courses in ethics.
- Thin Line International Documentary Festival, Jury Award, Best Feature Documentary
- Rhode Island International Film Festival, Audience Choice Award
- Breckenridge Festival of Film, Best Editing Award
- Lake Arrowhead Film Festival, Gold Award, Best Feature Documentary
- Park City Film Music Festival, Gold Award, Excellence in Music