Film producer Lawrence Bender wants his documentaries to make a difference.
Don’t all documentary filmmakers want the same thing, from Michael Moore’s dream of the death of capitalism to Morgan Spurlock’s vendetta against the Big Mac?
But Bender’s last documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, affected the global dialogue on climate change no matter where you stand on the issue.
Bender hopes to catch lightning in a bottle once more with Countdown to Zero, a film detailing the dangers of a world chock full of nuclear weapons.
It’s a topic that stands a far better chance of uniting the left and the right — who doesn’t fear a nuclear bomb assault?
The film details the history of the atomic bomb and how the nuclear club keeps expanding, and recalls a series of peace-time accidents that nearly detonated these weapons. It’s the kind of frightmares that would give even Freddy Krueger a scare.
We also hear tales of stolen uranium and learn just how easily a bomb could be smuggled into the U.S.
Bender, who calls himself a filmmaker and activist, spent time talking to CIA officials about nuclear bombs and gathered plenty of material to keep him up at night for months to come. The old sense of security supplied by the mutually assured destruction meme no longer applies, he says.
“The stuff that’s not in the movie is just as terrifying [as what made the final cut],” he says.
Countdown features some pretty impressive talking heads, from former President Jimmy Carter to former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Getting them on camera took patience. Bender says the film team met Gorbachev during a recent visit to Harvard University. A year and a half later they nabbed the interview.
“None of the interviews were easy. ‘We’re filming a movie about nuclear terrorism. Tell me everything you know,'” he says of the approach they essentially had to take.
An Inconvenient Truth surfed the cultural zeitgeist regarding the global warming movement, and recent news concerning President Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce nuclear stockpiles will certainly help Countdown, Bender says.
But the film’s team isn’t taking any chances.
“We’ve screened it for all the Internet folks, like MySpace and Google, screened it for religious folks, NGOs,“ he says. “We’ve traveled around the world, screening it in India, Pakistan and [we] got it into the Cannes Film Festival.“
“It’s not gonna be An Inconvenient Truth, but there is a whole social action campaign based on globalzero.org behind it,” he says.
Bender hopes Countdown won’t be cast aside as an ideological film.
“I believe the next step needs to occur in a bipartisan way,” he says of the move to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The film wraps with that message, one that conservative audiences will think requires rose-colored glasses to envision, and the film also lacks voices who support producing these kinds of weapons to keep rogue nations in check.
Bender understands the cynicism viewers may have about how much diplomacy can help.
“No one wants to be naïve to think just because we reduce Iran will reduce or change their position,” he says, adding that the world needs to do “anything possible to stop Iran or any other country from obtaining“ these weapons.
That said, he believes the U.S. and Russia need to take the lead in arms reductions, which will exert pressure on China to do the same.
“The tolerance for countries trying to obtain nuclear weapons will become more intolerable,” he predicts.
Bender took a moment to reflect on the aftermath of the ClimateGate scandal that rocked the global warming community.
Suffice to say he’s angry the scandal made so much news.
“Those scientists have been exonerated three times over. The media has done a huge disservice to the world by giving quote-unquote a fair and balanced viewpoint,” to global warming skeptics, he says.
Most people believe the world is round, so why should the news give equal coverage to those who think it‘s flat, he says for comparison‘s sake.
“It’s terrible that the media and the quote-unquote naysayers who are funded by energy companies … are out there confusing people and therefore we’re not where we need to be from a legislative standing.”
When Bender isn‘t trying to change the world one audience at a time, he‘s attempting to give them a thrill or two. He produced Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds as well as the bulk of the director’s work.
“Inglourious Basterds fulfills a creative itch. I love fictional movies,” he says. And those films allow him to keep producing films like Truth and Countdown to Zero, since the latter won’t make a fraction of the money Basterds hauled in during its theatrical release last year.
“They help support the other part of my life, the activist part,” he says.