"Atomic Mom" is a documentary about filmmaker M.T. Silvia's mother and her involvement with nuclear bomb testing. The film will be screened as part of the Citizen Jane Film Festival at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 at Ragtag Cinema.

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Mother's story carries weight in 'Atomic Mom'

The film will play at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 at Ragtag Cinema.

By Hunter Woodall | Sept. 30, 2011

Tags: Citizen Jane Movies


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While filming her documentary, “Atomic Mom,” filmmaker MT Silvia knew the subject area she was delving into was sensitive.

For years, Silvia had heard stories from her mother about her role as a Naval biologist in the 1950s when, at the age of 23, she witnessed five nuclear bomb tests prior to the bombing of Hiroshima. Now, Silvia has turned her mother's story into a full-length documentary.

“Initially I just wanted to get my mother's story down on tape for family history,” Silvia said. “I had no intention of making a movie.”

The documentary tells two stories: One is of Silvia’s mother, Pauline, who begins to feel guilt over her role in the nuclear bombing. The second story revolves around Emiko Okada, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombings who was only eight years old when the bomb was dropped.

“The story resonates with people on macro level with what’s going on with the world,” associate producer Sarah Dunham said. “I think on a real emotion level it cuts to the core with what families deal with.”

Silvia met Okada and began filming the documentary to help put her mother's conscious at ease. In the film, both women are trying to come to terms with their lives before and after the nuclear bomb was dropped.

“I took extra days as a vacation and emailed the Hiroshima peace museum to see if I could bring a camera in to shoot the museum,” Silvia said. “My only intention was to compare it to Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.”

While in Japan, Silvia spent time in Hiroshima and researched the impact the bomb had on residents. The Hiroshima Film Commission introduced Silvia to several survivors, leading to the director meeting and interviewing Okada and her daughter, both of whom are campaigning for the end of nuclear weaponry.

“I found (Silvia’s) mother to be a very compelling, complex and interesting person,” Dunham said. “I’ve never met her personally but I always found her mother to be a very sympathetic person as well.”

Silvia has been screening the documentary all over the country in film festivals since late last year and has won seven awards for best feature documentary.

“(The film commission) asked me if I wanted to interview a survivor, and I hadn’t thought about that,” Silvia said. “I found her and the film took a whole different direction.”

According to the film's website, the documentary poses questions about disarmament and whether or not science can overtake moral and ethical concerns. Filming the documentary was a seven-year process and wasn’t completed until October of 2010.

“One of my friends suggested that I found a mother with a daughter to make a parallel,” Silvia said. “It just sort of organically evolved into a documentary.”

Prior to directing the film, Silvia spent more than 20 years working for Skywalker Sound and Pixar Animation Studios. She also served as a recording engineer for David Lynch’s 1990 film, “Wild at Heart,” and as a systems administrator on Pixar films “A Bugs Life,” “Toy Story 2” and “Finding Nemo.”

The film will be screened as part of the Citizen Jane Film Festival for audiences at 3 p.m. Oct. 1 at Ragtag Cinema. On the film's website, Silvia said the heart of the movie comes from the relationship between mothers and their daughters.

“The Citizen Jane Film Festival really promotes women filmmakers and films about women and for women,” Silvia said. “My film is focused on a women’s side of nuclear history that’s never been told before and I thought it would be a perfect fit for the festival.”

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