Depicting a St. Louis-area town’s struggle against nuclear waste, Atomic Homefront is an intense and upsetting tale premiering Monday February 12th on HBO
A good documentary needs to make you feel something. Be it empathy, sadness, joy or anything, there needs to be an emotional pull in order to keep you caring about what is happening in the movie at any given moment. Documentaries as a genre all work at a visceral feeling that makes you see the world through a new light, sometimes positive and other times less. With Atomic Homefront, you should expect to find yourself furious at the ineptness of the Environmental Protection Agency, and more importantly to be upset by all of the suffering that the victims of an irradiated dump are still feeling the consequences of after decades.
Atomic Homefront, directed by Academy Award-nominee Rebecca Cammisa, tells the story of the group Just Moms, a collective of mothers and more from the suburbs of St. Louis, all of whom are feeling the effects of a nuclear waste dump near their town. Cancers, diseases passed down generationally, and other illnesses plague many members of the community, not to mention the other effects on the people of the town including a literal inability to move out due in part to the terrible home value. That means that the families of this town are trapped in a place making them all sick. The group Just Moms comes into play here, working together to get legislation passed and to talk to and meet with representatives and other officials who could somehow fix the problems in the town. Naturally, even that doesn’t work very well.
Atomic Homefront‘s main focus is on the members of Just Moms, including a woman who is dealing with terminal cancer while raising children, as well as mothers who are forced to watch their children suffer as a result of the illnesses they face. These and many other women attempt to work within the system to get change approved, from building a wall around the actual atomic waste to prevent the burning of trash in the area from reaching too far, all the way to travelling to Washington DC in order to speak with the people responsible for “handling” the waste in the first place.
Cammisa knows how to tell individual stories one at a time in ways that allows each woman’s narrative to feel relevant. At just over 90 minutes in runtime, the film briskly covers its issues at hand, allowing the women to tell the story for themselves. But the film doesn’t just stew in the sadness of its subjects. Instead it makes a point of looking at how Just Moms tries to fix their situation. In a political moment where grassroots movements are changing the face of the nation, the work of Just Moms is as important ever. And with recent developments in the case since the making of the film changing the story even more, the organization truly has changed their world.
Nothing about the filmmaking of Atomic Homefront is too revolutionary, and its score sometimes works against the film itself by being a bit too loud and deliberate. But the film’s story unfolds like a brilliant news story, pointing out each and every issue and slowly unrolling the conflicts happening in the heart of this country that we don’t even know about. By telling the story of real people trying to incite real change, the film feels incredibly fresh and necessary in ways most documentaries rarely do.