The fear of nuclear war seemingly resurfaced over the past eighteen months. Between the war in Ukraine and the upcoming Oppenheimer, there has been some reflection on the topic. Documentarian Irene Lusztig embeds within Richland, the small town where the uranium for the bomb at Nagasaki was harvested. As an iconic and integral location of the Manhattan Project, the town continues to seek an understanding of its legacy.
Lusztig adopts the style of Frederick Wiseman. While Richland integrates some archival footage, the culture of the town takes center stage. Store owners and longtime residents remain proud of their actions. Younger generations reckon with the culture, trying to put themselves in the shoes of those who grew up with town pride. Yet the winds of change have begun. At the same time, the ecological fallout remains an ever-present threat.
By observing the town in its entirety, Richland harvest some beautiful moments. You can find the strength the people of the town have. Many are critical and explain just how dangerous living in this town became for their families. The stark horror, such as being unable to dig below 15 feet to even grow plants, becomes upsetting. Yet the damage has been done. Lusztig seeds an interesting question throughout the documentary. How do you leave a home when it’s all you’ve ever known? Without ever saying it out loud, it still lands a powerful punch.
At the same time, Richland cannot move forward. When you remove a town’s ability to change or grow, it instead gets stuck in the past. As the people attempt to reckon with the role they played in the Manhattan Project, the tension grows. There’s anger and frustration, but most tragically, there’s no way forward. Even if some believe their town’s actions were questionable, others stay prideful. Richland becomes a microcosm of America in 2023, with traditional values coming to blow with self-reflexive, progressive ideologies. It makes Lusztig’s film even more powerful and an integral film of the festival.