Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Moruroa nuke testing legacy - a film tribute to stigma of de Gaulle's 'grandeur' victims

French servicemen watch a nuclear test at Moruroa atoll. A still from the documentary.
ALL THOSE nuclear-free Pacific campaigners from Tahiti's Oscar Temaru to a generation of Greenpeace activists would have been so delighted with the triumph of a 52-minute documentary at this year's FIFO Pacific Film Festival in Tahiti last weekend. A vindication for the "children of la bombe". The film Aux Enfants de la Bombe won the supreme award.

The Tahitian and French victims of the legacy of more than three decades of nuclear-testing in the Pacific finally got their story told. And what a graphic and poignant tribute.

All thanks to the courage of a French nuclear scientist, Bernard Ista, who defied French bans on filming the nukes and left shoe boxes full of damning evidence when he died from throat cancer at the age of 54. Here is an unsigned reviewer's posting on the FIFO website:

IT IS the prize we hoped that they would win - for the truth, for the forgiveness half-given, which makes the courage of those who took the dusty files out of the cupboard more credible. A prize in recognition of awareness and responsibilities was dreamt of above all.

From the applause at the end of the screening, this was a winning bet. A political prize if ever there were one but which could not have been.

What would we have been without Danielle Ista, wife of this French nuclear scientist who filmed - in spite of all the bans - weeks of work in the field, explosions from all nuclear testing which occurred at Moruroa and Fangataufa in the course of his employment for the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in Pape'ete, but also his family weekends on the beach.

It would have been worth a great deal to see if the widow would have handed over her late husband’s shoeboxes, full of Super 8 reels and other photographs which are rare accounts of a silent era to Jean-Marie Desbordes, the film initiator.

“Danielle Ista is part of the Association des Vétérans des Essais Nucléaires (AVEN - an association dedicated to the veterans involved in the nuclear trials) in France," explained Laurent Jacquemin, a member of the Tahitian Association for Audiovisual Professionals (ATPA), co-producer of the film.

"Jean-Marie met her during the course of his enquiry. He spent a long time convincing her to hand her archives over to him. It was by explaining to her that through this small story he could give the larger picture that she finally accepted.”

By putting ordinary life Joe Bloggs’ Sunday lunches in juxtaposition with images of the explosions, clouds of smoke and blinding lights caused by the nuclear testing, the documentary came into its own.

The aim of this 35-year chronicle at the centre of the adventure of the French atomic bomb intends above all to be a tribute to its descendants, who today bear the stigma of those years where General de Gaulle worked very hard to restore France’s grandeur.

This film is a tribute to the victims of the nuclear testing, a tribute to campaigns waged by associations, such as Moruroa e Tatou, who fight for the rights of victims of radiation induced illnesses to be recognised, for a duty of remembrance which is of course painful, but also the state recognition of guilt, which would benefit from finally admitting it.

Australia had always refused to publicly excuse itself to its stolen generations, who however needed this symbolic act to continue to progress. However, in November 2009 then  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, presented a solemn apology to these "forgotten children", handing the floor to his people through a speech, a people who again were witnessed at FIFO this year expressing the truth through films about this sad part of Australian history.

There is no shortage of examples. All have the beneficial effects of public forgiveness in common, the admission of guilt. It is the mark of respect, an integral part of any agreement between communities with different origins, cultures and traditions and which are sometimes even opposed.

The testimonies gathered in Aux Enfants de la Bombe (To the Children of the Bomb) vouch for the need for forgiveness to be assumed today. Today the “Why did they not say anything?” question is still followed by suspension points showing the resentment that still requires channeling.

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