Your Chance to Live: Nuclear DisasterIn late 1972, while experimenting
with ways to present civil defense advice an increasingly disinterested public,
the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency came to develop an informational campaign
heralded as Your Chance to Live. Similar in many respects to the In Time of Emergency crusade just four
years prior, Your Chance to Live consisted of pamphlets, recordings and
a wide range of films. Spanning topics from earthquakes to power
failures, the films of the series worked to mix common precautions with
specialized knowledge for each presented situation. Today, a quick scan
of any online video site often includes several incarnations of the most
accessible film of the series, Your Chance to Live: Earthwatch.
Featuring a number of natural disasters, including an earthquake, a flood, and
a landslide, the film offers tips for surviving each scenario. While not
specifically relating to nuclear defense, the underlying message of each film
is the same, be prepared. That same year, a creative writer for the
series used this idea of preparedness to create Your Chance to Live: Nuclear
Disaster, one of the most unique and haunting civil defense productions ever to
fall into obscurity.
Defense Civil Preparedness Agency
The theme of preparedness which
dominates the Your Chance to Live films becomes twisted almost
immediately. As depicted in the opening sequence, Nuclear Disaster was
filmed in a decisively self-reflexive manner, with the production crew and
equipment continually visible. The clip above functions as a series of
outtakes involving extras who are to act as though they have been caught unaware
when a bomb drops on Washington D.C. Focusing on the interactions between
the director and a young girl, the two have a candid discussion about the
effects of an enemy attack and the damage which could occur. While admitting she is not scared,
the girl innocently remarks, a bomb is "a thing that goes up in the air
and comes down and kills people".
Following the film crew back to their studio, the camera catches a number of
post-production actions including sound synchronization of a siren recording and the addition of
voice-over narration. Judging by the footage and animation appearing on
their editing screen, it appears that the crew is working on the 1969 film In Time of Emergency.
While the director and sound editor provide offhand remarks about fallout
shelters and supplies, no actual civil defense advice is ever provided.
Even with the arrival of the film's primary narrator Peter Thomas, Nuclear
Disaster merely continues to offer glimpses into the backstage world of government
A prominent voice-over narrator who
would later work on shows such as NOVA and Biography, Peter Thomas brings a
number of personalities to the set of Nuclear Disaster. As the clip above
demonstrates, he keeps up the frank atmosphere of the film by openly discussing
with the director what intonation would best be suited for delivering civil
defense advice. Determining that an on-location speech would provide much
more impact, Thomas and the crew convene in front of the White House. As
the director notes, the snow in the background gives the visual sensation of
post-attack world laced with fallout. After several takes, Thomas begins
his speech only to be cut short by the activation of Washington D.C.'s warning
siren system which provides an ironic conclusion to their efforts.
Several knowledgeable viewers have been quick to point out that the sirens
sounding in the film do not match the tone of the sirens used by Washington
D.C. during the Cold War, leading to the suspicion that this was another
post-production addition. Still, the ending of the film produces a very
strange aura, as the crew first laughs about their timing before staring
nervously at one another while the film ends. Although Nuclear Disaster
does not promote preparedness in the tradition sense of the genre, it tries to
reinforce the notion that, even as late as the 1970's, the threat of an attack
was still very real.