Famed in increasingly small cinephiliac circles as one of the great firebrands of film history, Peter Watkins’s singular reputation rests on his unabashedly leftist politics, his righteous indignation, and his openly polemical strategies. If, that is, he’s even known at all; always antagonistic toward traditional methods of distribution and industry conventions, frustrated by the fact that his films have been subject to active suppression if not outright censorship, he hasn’t made a film in twenty years, his output reduced to a few missives sporadically posted to his website.1 “Aggressively provocative,” is how Jared Rapfogel describes Watkins’s consistent tonal register, his films designed “to shock [his audiences] with visions of the sickness at the heart of society and of the possible consequences of this corruption.”2 “Prickly, often incendiary,” as Paul Arthur puts it, Watkins’s films are “blunt, rude instruments intended to scour encrusted attitudes from even the most complacent citizens.”3 Michael Hirschorn suggests the reason for the filmmakers’ increasingly faded appeal largely lies in both his “his Village Voice-circa 1975 politics” and his didactic strategies, off-putting to many otherwise well-intentioned audiences, “as if continuing in your bourgeois existence after watching one of his films is a form of ethical suicide.”4 

All of the above diagnoses and accusations of this sui generis filmmaker maudit, of course, can certainly be more or less true, though what also needs to be added to the composite portrait of his oeuvre is his overwhelming sense of compassionate, generous humanism. If Watkins’s films can be shrill and strident, even hysterical – one need only remember the aggressive shouting matches between young radicals and the upstanding members of bourgeois society deciding their fates in Punishment Park (1971), or the long-winded debates about revolutionary praxis that dominate La Commune (Paris, 1871) (2000) – then that’s only because his is the voice of someone so outraged by the world he lives in, its inequities and injustices, a world in which entertainment has replaced education as the media’s raison d’être, passivity has been ingrained as the most powerful tool of the status quo, a world in which the high cost of the Global North’s war machine deprives ordinary citizens of a meaningful present while brazenly threatening to cancel the future for everyone. His is a cinema as alarm bell and wake-up call, not because he disdains his viewers but because he’s too in love with humanity, too desperate to try to do whatever he can to salvage some shared world before it’s too late. If watching his films frequently feels like you’re being shouted at, then it’s only because he’s shouting for dear life.

Watkins’s humanism, in a sad accident of film history, is most fully on display in one of his most little-seen films, The Journey (1987), a sprawling, polyphonic, intellectually and emotionally overwhelming, fourteen-and-a-half-hour-long investigation of nuclear proliferation during the last stages of the Cold War. Made in fifteen countries across five continents (“A virtual illustration of the dictum ‘think global, act local,’” as Arthur describes it5), the film is notably the only straightforward documentary Watkins ever made, as opposed to the more famed deconstructions and fictionalizations of documentary techniques that mostly characterise his oeuvre. Evoking Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), not just because of its epic length and the urgency of its moral vision, but also because of its use of the normally staid talking-heads strategy, The Journey spends the majority of its time letting an increasingly wide cast of characters simply talk, about their experiences and their fears, about their anger and their hope, with Watkins’s interlocutor probing when he needs to but mostly intervening as little as possible. Indeed, in an essay on the film written for his website in 2013, outlining both the film’s production history and his hope for its future, Watkins suggests that it’s precisely the people we meet in the film, rather than its formal strategies or its argument, who comprise its beating heart.

The Journey – Location: Mozambique

In 1982, Watkins initially planned a sort of update of The War Game (1965) and its vision of the real threat of nuclear attack, one that would allow “citizens across Britain to express their concerns via their involvement in the production of this project,” conceiving of the film as a fundamentally collaborative one from the start. Funding, however, was quickly pulled by England’s Central TV as both his vision and his budget grew.6 With no funding at all from the professional sector, Watkins paradoxically began to think ever larger and more globally about the film’s possibilities. Inspired by a screening of The War Game with the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) in Stockholm in 1983, he became convinced that he could still pursue his vision while working solely on a grassroots level. Utilising the network of friends and colleagues he had built while traveling and lecturing around the world the previous two decades, he decided to build “an international fund-raising drive,” pursuing research wherever in the world he could, in each site organising local production crews for that place’s filming. 

Traveling mostly on his own, with local support groups doing the necessary groundwork to locate possible subjects and crew members before his arrival, he eventually circled the globe three times over throughout the various stages of planning and production.7 And amid the globe-trotting sprawl, “the film’s core concept” finally emerged in its new form: 

I would visit families or groups of people in various countries, and interview them to find out what they knew about the state and consequences of the world arms race, and the effects of nuclear weapons. The interviews would also focus on the role that mass media and educational systems played in shaping a world view, and on the knowledge that these people had – or did not have – vis-à-vis these subjects.8

Building on the strategies he had begun to use in productions like Edvard Munch (1974) and Evening Land (1977), films whose worlds were brought to life by mostly nonprofessional actors actively engaged in bringing their own cultural history and social conditions to life, in The Journey Watkins ended up going directly to the people themselves, free from the mediation of artifice or performance. From Utica, New York and Portland, Oregon, from Victoria, Australia to Hiroshima, Japan, from Toulouse, France to Tahiti, and from Mozambique to St. Petersburg, with many other stops in between, we meet a number of families, more often than not seated around their own kitchen tables, parents and children together in conversation with Watkins, who mostly remains just offscreen. It’s a radically collaborative kind of cinema in the truest sense, a method that would continue to define two of the three feature films Watkins has made since. In The Freethinker (1994) and La Commune (1871), Watkins doesn’t just use nonprofessional actors, but he actively foregrounds them as ordinary people in the final product, the actors responsible not just for bringing their characters to life, but for researching their backgrounds and historical contexts, frequently speaking to the camera directly about what they learned and about their own understanding of the characters and their conditions, and about what being involved with the film means for them personally, and for their own political understanding.

While The Journey makes many explicit (and explicitly didactic) arguments – about the collusion of mass media and education systems in keeping people ignorant of the cost of the nuclear arms race, about how news media specifically is carefully designed to prevent social change, about the structures of global inequalities – it’s these ordinary people, and their collective willingness to explore the world beyond their kitchen tables, and to actively consider their place in that world, that both necessitates the film’s colossal length and creates its passionate humanism. Writing for a volume of essays about the film in 1991, Watkins reflects that, amid all its achievements, “the most important example set by The Journey, though, is the one that transcends any debate on form and structure—it is the people who appear in the film.”9 Indeed, the essay begins with him pondering a still from the film, one showing “four human beings who live in the island of Tahiti,” Joachim Tamatoa Lucas framed with his sister, his wife, and a family friend. “How have I,” Watkins wonders, “affected what we think about them and how we perceive them as human beings?”10 And therein lies the question of his monumental epic as a whole: How is Watkins going to approach, on his own myriad journeys, the people of the world? And how are we, his fellow travellers, prepared to engage as human beings the members of the composite portrait of humanity that emerge? And maybe most startlingly, what might prevent us from otherwise perceiving other people in other corners of the world as human beings? 

The Journey – Location: Tahiti

When first embarking on the film, though, viewers might understandably balk at the seeming dryness and clinical didacticism of what seems to be in store. “Well, hello,” Watkins casually says in the film’s first words over a black background, in a somewhat touching bit of offhand humanisation of his own, introducing himself as our narrator. “We’re going to look at some photographs,” another narrator soon chimes in, “that show the way nuclear weapons are made. It’s called the nuclear weapons production complex.” We then see a number of photographs of factories across the American South and Midwest in which uranium is enriched before being transformed into weapons-grade plutonium, culminating with a photograph of the chief public relations officer of a site in Ohio known as “the bomb factory.” The narrator relates how that officer denied the appellation, “because they did not manufacture bombs there, they made only plutonium for eventual use in bombs.” “He made a point of not knowing such things,” the narrator notes, regarding the number of nuclear bombs in the world, “because they didn’t pertain to his job.”

In just one brief opening sequence, one that seems to be setting us up for a film single-mindedly devoted to nuclear arms production and proliferation, two key meta-themes are already introduced. The act of looking, on the one hand, is clearly foregrounded; looking at photographs of things we’ve never seen before, things we may not even have known existed, and then going on to begin to find the links between what we’re looking at. And not looking, or not knowing, becomes equally important to the dense tapestry that follows; who decides what we don’t get to look at, when do we become coerced into deciding not to know something, when does sticking to one’s “job” become a more-or-less active decision not to participate beyond that job’s small confines. And by foregrounding his own personal role, Watkins suggests that both these acts, looking and not-looking, are always subjective ones, and that such objectivity as the PR officer claims only becomes its own sort of myopia. 

While ordinary families will eventually become the film’s dominant motif, Watkins first takes us to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where we learn that the landscape is being transformed to make way for a strategic military airfield. But then, not around a kitchen table but a community centre’s, we meet our first group of people, members of a local grassroots organisation who’ve protested the airfield for five years, as they actively debate both NATO’s exploitation of the island and the ignorance of most of the village’s inhabitants regarding the real stakes of what’s happening. “These people have been denied information by the system in which they live,” Watkins narrates. “They will be the first of many you will meet in this film.” If the first sequence dryly introduced us to the systemic network in which nuclear arms are made and eventually deployed, then Watkins swiftly decides that systems ultimately only matter insofar as they affect, shape, and even destroy the lives of the very real people – knowingly or not – who live within them. To think systemically, The Journey powerfully suggests from the start, is always already to think humanistically, just as Edvard Munch or La Commune (1871) suggest about thinking historically.

“This film is about systems,” Watkins narrates later in the first episode (the film is divided into nineteen, the first eighteen of which hauntingly end with a question mark on a black screen, as if asking us what we’re poised to do about everything we’re seeing), “the systems under which we all live, and the mechanisms they use to deprive us of information and participation.” And indeed, over the course of its epic sprawl, the film becomes a masterpiece of systemic thinking, finding that no one global issue or crisis exists in isolation, but they’re all part of one vast, interlocking network. If Watkins’s staunchest critics might argue that, like some impotent holdover from the ‘60s counter-culture, he’s left railing against some abstract “system,” then those critics might benefit from spending time with The Journey, among cinema’s most staggering and clearly articulated definitions of just what that “system” is and how it works. To speak about nuclear proliferation, it turns out, one also has to speak about the news media’s obfuscating tactics, the limits of democracy, systemic global inequalities, education’s role in manufacturing ignorance, women’s rights, the alienation of labour, staggering racial disparities in the United States, even the cost of groceries. 

But even these more-or-less oppressive systems, Watkins suggests, mean very little unless they’re illuminated by the people whose lives they shape. To talk about nuclear proliferation, you also have to talk about fear and courage, and apathy and hopelessness and how impotent even rage feels in the face of all these interlocking structures of power and oppression (“There are many forms of colonization being shown in this film,” he drily remarks in one potent aside). Because what matters most of all is people; that the fact of nuclear arms being deployed against citizens only truly becomes understandable once we see the bodies of those burned in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and once we listen to the people left remembering what no person should have to remember. “Not only human beings, but also cows, horses, virtually everything was killed,” one elderly survivor of the American attacks remembers. “Sometimes I had to walk on the dead bodies because the ground was too hot. I kept saying ‘sorry’ to them.” The myriad facts and numbers and collections of data Watkins throws at his audience are frequently staggering; but it’s that visceral memory of the witness that becomes truly unforgettable, and what makes the facts matter.

The Journey

While the older members of the family in Hiroshima we meet in the first episode have the terrible privilege of their own memories of the horrors of nuclear warfare, Watkins uses enlarged stills of a series of gruesome photographs of those horrors to inaugurate his conversations with the other families untouched yet (at least obviously) by such historical scars. The act of looking becomes a potent political intervention into any notions of domestic complacency, a way of welcoming the world’s uncomfortable truths to the table rather than pretending the table is somehow immune to any of them, maybe even transforming the kitchen table into a site of potential political activism. And as the first episode introduces us not just to those activists in the Hebrides and the survivors in Hiroshima, but to families in Seattle and Tahiti (where the French government continued to hide its locally conducted nuclear tests from the colonially occupied citizenry), with the other families gradually introduced throughout the next few episodes, the fact that the film is fundamentally made, not of facts and figures and didactic arguments, but only of so much human material becomes abundantly clear. “I should say that until I began The Journey,” Watkins narrates, in a not uncommon bit of honest acknowledgement of his own subjective blind spots, “I had never heard of much of this information, and I wanted to find out if this was the same for other people.” What’s remarkable about his admission here is not simply his disavowal of the documentarian’s conventional position of all-knowing mastery, but also both the humanist sense of curiosity and the revelation of the film’s exploratory, almost aleatory structure.

And in disavowing any of his claims to mastery of the subject, in embracing instead the stance of clear-eyed curiosity, a willingness to face up to so many infrequently faced facts, Watkins has clearly invited each of the families we meet to do the same. We ultimately meet twelve families, along with the activist group in the Hebrides and a women’s agricultural cooperative in Mozambique, most of whom were found or chosen by the fundraising support groups Watkins had been able to establish in each of their respective cities.11 As Kenneth Noley, his contact in Oregon who helped organise a group in Salem to raise money to fund production in Portland, explained to me via email, Watkins “didn’t want families that were already devoted to the peace movement; he was more interested in finding people open to the process of finding out more and discussing the issues the film proposed to deal with.” And as Watkins noted in private email correspondence, their common link was only their humanity, as every person on the globe, no matter their location, was (and is) just as affected by the arms race and its consequences as any other. 

For both himself and these families willing to engage the issues literally brought to their tables, Watkins describes the process in 2013 as indeed something quite like a journey. After he initially developed the core idea of interviewing families about their knowledge, or lack thereof, of the nuclear arms race, his process was one of near constant discovery. Almost offhandedly, for instance, he mentions discovering “the absurd civil defence measures designed for New York State” in the case of nuclear attack.12 Something he had no way of knowing he would find until he ended up in Utica (itself a fortuitous case of circumstance, as Watkins counted among his global network of friends Scott MacDonald, a professor at Utica College), and it ends up blossoming into one of the most visceral and potent sequences in the entire film. As with most other stops on our journey, we first visit Utica via one ordinary family’s kitchen table, around which Watkins sits with Bill and Elizabeth Hendricks and their three children. And like those other families, the Hendricks’ journey begins with looking at pictures of victims of past atrocities that the global system has assured remain always perilously close to being repeated. “When they cry for war, I don’t really believe that they know what they’re saying,” is all Elizabeth Hendricks can say after a few moments of stunned silence. 

Bill Hendricks and children

But following the film’s associative logic of sprawling ever outward from the act of looking to then grappling with the very real consequences of what we’re looking at, the Hendricks are eventually thrown into one of Watkins’s famed re-enactments (as are the Barnes family in Victoria and the Vikan family in Stjørdal, Norway elsewhere in the film), in sequences that both evoke The War Game and suggest the original vision of a far shorter and more straightforward film Watkins had back in 1982. And indeed, the sequence has something of the visceral intensity of certain stretches of famed early-80s nuclear attack fantasies like The Day After (1983) or Threads (1984), as the Hendricks family is thrust into a nightmarish scenario displaying the massive gulf between the “civil defence measures” officially prepared and the chaotic breakdown of the lived human reality.13 When lives are actually on the line, panicked and afraid as the sirens blare, the state’s official response proves utterly inadequate, citizens consistently failed by the policies nominally put in place to save them when the unthinkable happens.

It’s an especially brutal sequence in a film otherwise devoted to looking for paths toward global peace and mutual understanding – breakdown as opposed to the continued promise of a collective breakthrough – but it stands out as one potent example of this aleatory process of discovery guiding Watkins’s methods throughout. Far less visceral and superficially dramatic, but maybe even more powerful, though, is the way that this faith in the unplanned and the accidental manifests itself in the conversations that comprise the majority of the film’s running time. Watkins initially establishes the parameters of each conversation, one might say aggressively, by putting these horrifying photographs in front of each group of participants, but if the act of making them look is aggressive, then he shows remarkable restraint in letting them slowly and carefully grapple with what they’re looking at. Minimally edited (indeed, as Watkins points out in his 1991 essay, the average shot length of The Journey is 45.9 seconds, as opposed to, say, the 3.6 seconds ASL of Star Wars), these sequences are powerful testaments to patience, but also to respect and compassion. 

Even in those moments when Watkins does display a heavy hand, throwing a shocking fact about global inequality at a family, for instance, and then asking “Did you know that?”, it’s never done with condescension or impatience. As is most frequently the case, the participants didn’t know what Watkins has just told them, but he’s most interested in letting them take the time to carefully consider why they didn’t know it, and the larger stakes of who benefits from all the things we don’t know about our world as opposed to the things we thought we did. The pauses and longueurs at these kitchen tables, as participants carefully ponder the photographs and try to articulate their evolving and frequently uncomfortable ideas, stand in marked contrast to what Watkins has long aggressively critiqued as the Monoform. Designed to keep its viewers always entertained because rendered unresponsive, the Monoform – the way that a Netflix drama series stylistically differs little from an evening news program or a televised sports match – is the endgame of, as he writes in 2013, “the role of mass audiovisual media (MAVM) in suppressing information on the global arms race and the developing environmental crisis.”14 It’s an audiovisual logic actively hostile to the very notions of collaboration, reflectiveness, and open-endedness that characterise his own approach throughout constructing The Journey.

Indeed, the film’s great length becomes not simply the consequence of its humanist patience but its own urgent political argument, creating a space not just for witnessing, but for true, back-and-forth dialogue and mutual understanding and respect, a space where images and numbers become people, and where places on the other side of the globe end up feeling a lot like home. In the fourth episode, we meet Elena Ortega, a working-class mother of eight in Cuernavaca. While Watkins narrates statistics about Mexico’s widespread poverty and lack of basic critical social infrastructure, Elena still insists that “it’s better to be poor, but to stay in peace,” that no amount of power is worth a world that could be destroyed in minutes. And just as the Ortega family, like every other, is invited to look at those photographs of what they’ve never looked at before, Watkins’s own gently probing camera invites us to look at lives like Elena’s that we’ve never seen before, lives largely abandoned while global capital favours instead the ceaseless proliferation of the war machine. “Where’s the human heart?” Ken Barnes laments with bruised astonishment in Victoria when Watkins informs him, in episode twelve, that two weeks’ worth of global armament by the powers of the Global North could feed and house the entire world’s population for a year. And Elena herself pleads for those in power to recognise the vast gulf between the systems they perpetuate and their human cost:

All the races of the world want that, we want our peace and our tranquillity. And we should ask these presidents who are involved in these arms campaigns, that they should realize what is necessary in the world. Instead of destroying all the poor people, they should hold hands together, and go around the world and look at the situation of the people [at which point her face’s beaming small suddenly breaks down into tearful sobs, surrounded by her children]. This is our plea to the presidents of the big powers.

And this is surely Watkins’s plea as well, if not to the presidents of the big powers than to the citizens living in them; “to go around the world and look at the situation of the people” becomes The Journey’s own raison d’être, a film that’s equal parts ethical challenge, curiosity-driven travelogue, populist gift, and humanist cri de couer. 

Tricia Crippen

“I’m okay,” Tricia Crippen says through tears as she tries to comfort the child in her lap after she’s pored over Watkins’s photographs splayed out on her table, as we’re introduced to her and her family in Portland in the third episode. “I’m just a little bit sad about the pictures, because they are real pictures of real people.” Similarly, toward the end of the film, Watkins starts showing families in the West video of his interviews with the Kolosov family in St. Petersburg, inviting them to witness all the ways in which the Russian family’s feelings and ideas are very much like their own. “They just looked the same as ourselves,” Sam Smillie marvels in Glasgow. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen an ordinary Russian family,” his wife adds. On the subject of Russian’s “hostility,” Sam concludes that “this is an impression that has been foisted upon us, isn’t it? Distance, separation. Something that we all need to overcome.”

And maybe it’s ultimately this overcoming of separation, this collapsing of distance, that becomes the film’s most vital journey we’re asked to take; while Watkins travels all over the globe, and increasingly invites his collaborators to virtually visit one another’s kitchen tables with him, their journey might be said to be one of realising they’re actually just traveling from “here” to “here,” from one vantage point of the same place to another, from one pocket of shared humanity to another. And once one undertakes such a journey, the film persistently finds, you more likely than not end up feeling compelled to do something about everything you’ve seen, all the fellow travellers you’ve met. “It’s gotta start with us,” Tricia Crippen concludes, pondering the prospect of nuclear annihilation, “and it may end with us if we don’t all come to that kind of consciousness, I think.” It’s a sentiment ultimately shared by nearly everyone we meet in Watkins’s dense tapestry, a polyphonic vision of interdependent global experience, maybe even film history’s greatest monument to shared humanity.

Given the magnitude not just of Watkins’s vision but of that vision’s intent, it makes it all the more dispiriting how unknown the film is even by those familiar with the more exemplary works of his oeuvre. First shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 1987, The Journey was screened in the subsequent years at universities and by activist groups around the world, airing on local public television channels in Canada and New York in 1989, though never televised since. Indeed, Watkins’s 2013 essay was written in response to a rare showing at London’s Tate Modern Gallery in May of that year. “As I understand it,” he laconically notes, “the cinema was full for the initial evening, after which the audience diminished to a core group of some 30 people, some of whom stayed though to the end, participating in all the discussions.”15 This anecdote, sadly, mirrors the film’s fate on YouTube, where it’s currently most widely available. At the time of this writing, the first episode has 7,440 views, with the number of views dropping with each subsequent part, episode 14 having the nadir of 240 views, with a slight uptick to the final episode’s 405. Some journeys, it turns out, are just too arduous for most to see to the end.

But in his 2013 essay, while mourning the film’s lack of real distribution, he still includes references to how the film has been used for educational purposes in the U.S., New Zealand, and Sweden, suggesting ways in which educators might include the film – conveniently broken up into chapters the length of typical classroom periods – in various curricula, stressing how important it is “for young people” particularly to experience the film, and to grapple with the polyphonic vision of what Watkins refers to as his “global peace film.” And while eighteen of the nineteen parts, at the time of this writing, are uploaded to YouTube, Watkins also directs us to the recent DVD release of the film in a 5-disc boxset, distributed by Doriane Films in Paris (in the original English language with French subtitles), as well as to the existence of a 339-page “User’s Guide,” with questions and materials meant for use in school and university classrooms, as pedagogical accompaniment (though this guide, however, remains unreleased in any official format).

The ending of the Cold War may seem to have turned The Journey into an instantly outdated curio, a relic of an argument that no longer needs to be made. But as unprecedented heatwaves shatter records all over the world, as Arctic ice loss rapidly grows and sea levels rise, as wildfires ravage vast swaths of land, as the already ongoing refugee crisis becomes ever more linked to these cataclysmic natural disasters, as nativist and nationalist tribalisms emerge in response to both increased human migration and the exacerbation of social iniquities driven by the current Covid-19 pandemic, and as the stark urgency of the climate crisis and its human cost becomes ever more undeniable the faster the globe hurtles to 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the futurity of shared global experience is just as much in doubt as it was under the air of nuclear anxiety at the time of The Journey’s production. The contours and circumstances may have changed, but the state of crisis remains the same. Watkins’s film is just as urgent today as it was in 1987, both in its vision of how to document a crisis and how to envision a collective awakening to what to do about it. 

“They make me think of the whole planet disintegrating,” muses Ouiza Safou, an Algerian immigrant in Toulouse, as she pores over the photographs of scorched bodies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One might easily have the same thought as, seemingly every day now, in our newspapers and social media feeds, we’re invited to pore over the seemingly constant bombardment of photographs and videos of our own scorched earth. And nothing short of recognising that we’re all being scorched, together, is Watkins’s urgent plea as to how we might come to do something to mitigate whatever shared disasters lurk on the horizon. For all his fiery, prickly indignation, and despite the fact that he seems to have given up on filmmaking for good, The Journey stands as his towering plea to recognise our own shared humanity in a world where we’re easily invited to think of disasters as only happening to unknown people in far-off places. Despite all the bracing warning shots and collapsed revolutionary dreams that have defined his cinema, his most monumental work is still a testament to the fact that Peter Watkins is a filmmaker who believes in the future, if only we can recognise how close we really are to all those who will be living in it. Elena Ortega, surrounded by her impoverished family in Cuernavaca, notably gets the film’s very last word after the final credits have rolled. Answering Watkins’s question of what she and her fellow labourers do when they’re not working, she simply responds, “we look after the children.” 

Elena Ortega and her family


  1. “I have often been told that young people have not heard of my films,” Watkins writes at the end of his most recent polemical essay. “I think this is particularly true in my own country, where the status quo cinema organs have conducted a policy of ‘studied avoidance’ regarding my work.” Peter Watkins, “Dark Side of the Moon,” 2018. https://wolfberlin.org/new-media-statement. For a detailed account of the BBC’s active suppression of The War Game since the cancellation of its scheduled television premiere, see Tony Shaw, “The BBC, the State, and Cold War Culture: The Case of Television’s The War Game (1965).” The English Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 494 (December 2016), pp. 1351-1384.
  2. Jared Rapfogel, “Cautionary Tales and Alternate Histories: The Films of Peter Watkins. Cinéaste, vol. 32, no. 2 (Spring 2007), p 21.
  3. Paul Arthur, “The Troublemaker.” Film Comment, vol. 40, no. 3 (May/June 2004), p 59.
  4. Michael Hirschorn, “He Saw It Coming,” The Atlantic, November 2008, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/he-saw-it-coming/307037/.
  5. Arthur, p 64.
  6. In private email correspondence from 31st August, 2021, Watkins offered further examples of international broadcasting companies who refused to fund filming in their countries, including Australia’s ABC and Norway’s NRK1, the latter of whom withheld any assistance because they claimed they couldn’t decide whether the film was a drama or a documentary. Once filming was complete, support finally emerged when the National Film Board in Montreal gave him use, free of charge, of their editing and sound mixing facilities.
  7. Scott MacDonald, Watkins’s chief contact at Utica College, has detailed some of the extraordinary fundraising efforts that made shooting in each location possible, in an essay detailing the film’s production in upstate New York especially; amid the myriad benefits hosted by members of his college and its surrounding community, including dinners, art auctions, and “an ‘End of the World Beerblast,’ sponsored by the Gamma Sigma Sigma sorority and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity,” the support group in Utica eventually raised $32,000 for the shooting to be done in the area. “The Mohawk Valley Journey to The Journey.” Adventures in Perception: Cinema as Exploration. University of California Press, 2009, p. 282. The relatively small sum suggests just how much these local sits of production were labors of love, activism, and community support, what Kenneth Nolley, Watkins’s contact in Salem, Oregon, described in an email from 12 August, 2021, as the film production’s “somewhat communitarian approach.”
  8. Peter Watkins, “The Journey,” 2013, http://pwatkins.mnsi.net/journey.htm.
  9. Peter Watkins, “The Journey: A Voyage of Discovery.” Peter Watkins’ The Journey: A Film in the Global Interest, edited by Ken Nolley. Willamette Journal of the Liberal Arts, 1991, p. 11.
  10. Watkins, 1991, pp. 1-2.
  11. The exceptions to this, as Watkins explained to me via email, were the families in Tahiti, Cuernavaca, and St. Petersburg. Without established support groups in these locations, Watkins looked to activist friends with contacts in the first two areas to find him families to work with, while in the Soviet Union he worked with the Soviet Peace Committee. Regarding the latter family, he notes that while there was no pressure on what he could film or discuss, he suspected that the presence of a representative of the Committee throughout filming played a part in the family’s cautiousness in answering his questions.
  12. Watkins, 2013.
  13. The broadcast of these two films notably influenced Watkins’s expanded sense of scope and strategy as he planned the film throughout its early funding difficulties. As MacDonald explains, that earlier film “now seemed impossible—it would be seen as just another The Day After—and more important, would contribute to the development of an even deeper complacency about ‘the Bomb’: the more frequently mass media provided imagery of nuclear detonations, the less impact and importance this imagery would have, and the more inevitable nuclear detonations would come to seem.” Macdonald, 2009, p. 277.
  14. Watkins, 2018.
  15. Watkins, 2013.

About The Author

Jacob Hovind is an Associate Professor of English at Towson University. With recently published articles on the films of Hong Sang-soo and Éric Rohmer, and the fiction of Kazuo Ishiguro and David Foster Wallace, he is currently completing a monograph on James Joyce’s aesthetic theories, ethics, and film style.

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