Command and Control
by director Robert Kenner
I grew up doing duck and cover drills, terrified of nuclear war, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union I had stopped worrying about nuclear weapons, and it seemed the world around me had too. When I read Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control about accidents in America’s nuclear arsenal, I was both fascinated and horrified.
The book tells the story of an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas on the night of September 18, 1980. An airman doing routine maintenance dropped an 8-pound socket, puncturing the fuel tank of an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead in our arsenal. It was nine hours of sheer terror as Air Force personnel worked to prevent a nuclear warhead, six hundred times more powerful than Hiroshima, from detonating in rural Arkansas.
Initially I couldn’t see how to bring this chilling story to life. There was very little archival footage of the accident, and of course there were no cameras in the missile complex that night. When the Air Force granted us access to a deactivated silo, the film became an exciting reality.
Shooting in a Titan II missile complex identical to the site of the Damascus accident, we had access to what was essentially a multi-million dollar Hollywood set. It was an incredible opportunity to reimagine the horrifying events of that evening and deliver a minute-by-minute nonfiction thriller. We were able to put the viewer in the tense moments of the accident, while conveying the scale of what was at stake that night.
I think the film brings the terror of that evening to life, leaving the viewer with the startling revelation that, even today, our nuclear arsenal presents a danger not only to our enemies but also to ourselves.