Richland critiques “home, safety, [and] whiteness” of proud nuclear company town

February 12, 2024, 12:03PMANS Nuclear Cafe


The documentary film Richland, which won awards at the Tribeca Festival and Sheffield (U.K.) DocFest last year, continues to gain exposure. Directed by Irene Lusztig, a self-described “feminist filmmaker, archival researcher, educator, and seamstress,” the documentary explores the community and “nuclear origin story” of Richland, Washington, a town that was built by the U.S. government to house Hanford Site workers who made the weapons-grade plutonium for the atomic bombs of the Manhattan Project.

Washington State University offered a free screening of the documentary last week at its main Pullman campus, followed by a discussion with the director and Robert Franklin, an assistant professor in history at the university’s Tri-Cities campus and the assistant director and archivist for the Hanford History Project.


“Expansive and lyrical”: On the Richland website, the documentary is described as “a prismatic, placemaking portrait of a community staking its identity and future on its nuclear origin story, presenting a timely examination of the habits of thought that normalize the extraordinary violence of the past.”

The community is proud of its heritage, and as the documentary moves between Richland’s past and its present, it becomes “an expansive and lyrical meditation on home, safety, whiteness, land, and deep time.”

Mushroom cloud: According to a recent article on the WSU Insider, Washington State University’s online news source for the WSU community, Lusztig became interested in examining Richland’s nuclear history when she visited the town in 2015 and “was especially struck with the large mushroom cloud painted on the back wall of Richland High School.” During the following years, the filmmaker “observed a new and troubling political climate emerg[ing] in the United States” and decided to make a movie “about the ways Americans have processed their own violent histories.”

Credit to Franklin: According to the Insider, Lusztig obtained all of the archival material in her documentary from the Hanford History Project collections, and she credits Franklin’s “deep knowledge and familiarity with the region’s history and with the community” for making her film possible.

Franklin is quoted as saying that Lusztig’s film “humanizes the site and the surrounding communities in a remarkable way”, and that the history of Richland is impactful and relevant for the rest of the world. Lusztig also remarked that her film has neither a pro- nor antinuclear agenda, but rather that it creates “listening spaces” for viewers as they ponder historical and present-day complexities of the region.

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