Pugwash, a tiny village in northern Nova Scotia, has the curious distinction of being famous around the world and obscure in its own country.
The documentary Strangest Dream explores the unlikely story linking Pugwash to Nobel laureate Joseph Rotblat, the only scientist to walk away from the Manhattan Project before the atomic bomb was dropped.
It is currently being screened across Canada before being shown at the European Parliament in Brussels and at the UN in New York later this spring.
“We realized the best way to tell the Pugwash story was through Rotblat. He had lived through so much tragedy, but he was able to turn things around and use his scientific knowledge to help humanity,” explains Halifax filmmaker Eric Bednarski.
Rotblat joined the top-secret project to help the Allies beat the Nazis to the bomb, but became disillusioned.
“He had a real problem with what he was doing. He could foresee an arms race with the Soviet Union and he knew that the bomb would be dropped on the Japanese,” Bednarski says.
Rotblat became a major advocate of nuclear disarmament. He gathered the world’s leading scientists and public figures to assess the dangers of the weapons in 1957. Various locations were considered before he accepted Cyrus Eaton’s offer. The Canadian industrialist agreed to foot the bill if they held the meeting in his hometown: Pugwash.
Bednarksi and his National Film Board team shot in New Mexico, Cairo, Hiroshima, London, Warsaw and, of course, Pugwash.
Rotblat died shortly before he was to have met Bednarksi. “That was obviously a huge challenge — how to make a film with the protagonist not being alive,” Bednarksi says. He used existing interviews and spoke to those who knew Rotblat well.
“Everyone agreed that he was charming, dedicated and a gentlemen, and that he could be very stubborn. The thing I got was the energy he had to the very end. He was well into his 90s, but he was still flying around the world and attending conferences.”
Wednesday, March 11 at 7 p.m., NFB Mediatheque (includes panel discussion); Tuesday, March 24 at 7 p.m., University of Toronto, Hart House.
For more information, visit www.nfb.ca/strangestdream