“Suddenly there was a powerful explosion, the earth trembled under my feet and the older people who had already experienced a war, thought this would be the start of a new one.” This is how Gulschara, a witness, describes one of the worst nuclear disasters to mankind.
On September 29th, 1957 a tank containing highly radioactive waste exploded at the Mayak nuclear facility in the south Ural region in Russia and released large amounts of radioactivity, which spread up to 400km northeast of Mayak. Due to the meteorological situation the contamination accumulated to the south Ural area, so that the warning systems in Europe weren’t triggered. The accident could therefore be kept secret for more than 30 years until the Perestroika.
In that time most of the people living in the affected areas were not properly informed. Many lived a normal life as if nothing had happened. Even today people have only been partially moved to a new settlement called New Muslyumovo, which is only two kilometres away from the old town and the Tetscha river, which originates in the secret area of Mayak and in which high-level radioactive waste was inserted repeatedly. “I am afraid of the radiation… but I don’t feel it a lot during day-to-day life”, says Nail, one of the residents of Muslyumovo.
The filmmaker uses the cinematic language to capture a danger, that is not visual nor perceptible, and to show the strenght of people and nature who has to cope with it.
In the beginning of April 2011, three weeks after the horrible catastrophe that hit Japan caused by an earthquake and a Tsunami, followed by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, I visited a friend in Tokyo. My family members and friends tried to convince me not to fly because of the radiation that was caused by Fukushima. Everyone was afraid. In Europe, radiation counters were sold out in that time. I was somehow fascinated by the fact that something happening more than 8000 km away can cause so much fear. Finally, I decided to visit the friend in Tokyo. Finding answers in Japan now seems to me like a complete failure concerning me as a filmmaker. Everything seemed to be normal in Tokyo. Since I hadn’t visited the country and experienced its culture before, I wasn’t able to see the differences. I spent the time in Tokyo with all these great people who were proud of having me as a guest, since every foreigner they knew left the country. In the end I drove to the north hoping to find answers there, even if I didn’t exactly knew the questions. I felt like I had to understand something but I didn’t know what it was. The massive destruction I saw completely blew me away. I felt like being in a dream, a nightmare. I shot a lot in the devasted areas since I thought behind this obvious destruction was an answer – but there wasn’t.
It is important to talk about my trip to Japan in April 2011 because it was the beginning and the fundament of this film. My friend in Tokyo kept asking me about my experience with Chemobyl. I told him that I couldn’t remember 1986 since I was a kid. But I told him everything else I knew about Chemobyl from my parents. Later I started researching about Chernobyl myself and this was also the first time I dealt with the south Ural region, especially Muslyumovo and ali the other little villages along a river called Tetcha. The Tetcha river is like a waste bin in which nuclear waste from the nuclear facility Mayak was inserted. No one should live close to this river, but the people there do. Not only the Tetcha is contaminated. Through the regular operation of Mayak and by various accidents, an area of 20,000km² was contaminated. According to scientists the amount of radioactivity released is similar to that caused by Chemobyl. The largest release of radioactivity was caused by the Kyshtym accident: on September 29th, 1957 a tank containing highly radioactive waste exploded at the Mayak nuclear facility and released large amounts of radioactivity which spread up to 400km northeast of Mayak. Due to the meteorologic situation the contamination accumulated to the South Ural area, so that the warning systems in Europe weren’t triggered. The accident could therefore be kept secret for more than 30 years until the Perestroïka. When I read this, I couldn’t believe that I’ve never paid attention to his before.
In 2011, after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, media all around the world were estimating the consequences for people and nature by the radiation that was set free. Comparisons to Chemonbyl in 1986 were done all the time by experts and scientists. I was surprised no one was talking about Mayak and the south Ural. I realised that even today, one of the worst nuclear disasters in history is still unknown to a wide public. I thought this should be told, therefore I decided to make a film about it. For me it was clear in the beginning to choose a unique, stilistic form to tell the story of the people living in that region: instead of having an investigative character with it’s scandalouslike-mood, with a lot of facts and information I wanted the attention of what was really necessary for me – the people. I tried to find proper images for their stories, their experiences and that combinated with the sound creation provoke a feeling of something that is not visible nor perceptible. I want the audience to feel the danger that lies within the images despite showing a radiation counter all the time. The sound, the images and the narrative structure with long shots should create a timeless character in a place that is forgotten to the rest of the world.