COMMAND AND CONTROL, a new documentary thriller about the real events that occurred at a Titan II missile complex in Arkansas in September 1980 will air on PBS Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 9/8c.
Directed by Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) and based on the critically acclaimed book by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), COMMAND AND CONTROL is a minute-by-minute account of a chilling nightmare that plays out at a Titan II missile complex in Arkansas in September, 1980. A worker accidentally drops a socket, puncturing the fuel tank of an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead in our arsenal, an incident which ignites a series of feverish efforts to avoid a deadly disaster. Putting a camera where there was no camera that night, Kenner brings this nonfiction thriller to life with stunning original footage shot in a decommissioned Titan II missile silo. Eyewitness accounts — from the man who dropped the socket, to the man who designed the warhead, to the Secretary of Defense — chronicle nine hours of terror that prevented an explosion 600 times more powerful than Hiroshima.
COMMAND AND CONTROL premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last April.
“The events of 1980 in Damascus, Arkansas, strike close to home, especially because AETN headquarters is less than 30 miles away from the site of the disaster,” said AETN Executive Director Allen Weatherly. “I had the opportunity to read the book the film is based upon and found the history riveting. We expect the same reaction to this superb film. AETN is excited to have ‘Command and Control,’ and the American Experience team, in our state to include Arkansans in the conversation to understand the events that took place in this shocking story.”
On the evening of September 18, 1980, Airmen David F. Powell and Jeffrey L. Plumb were performing routine maintenance at the Titan II silo in Damascus, Arkansas. At the age of 21, Powell was considered a highly experienced missile technician; Plumb, who had just turned 19, was still in training. As the two stood on a platform near the top of the Titan II, a socket fell from Powell’s wrench, plummeted 70 feet and, shockingly, punctured the missile. A stream of highly explosive rocket fuel began pouring into the silo.
Nothing like this had ever happened to a Titan II before and the Air Force had no procedures in place to deal with the event. For the next eight hours, the leadership of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) frantically struggled to figure out how to prevent a massive explosion and retain control of the thermonuclear warhead — a weapon so powerful that it could destroy much of Arkansas and deposit lethal radioactive fallout across the East Coast.
Woven through the Damascus story is a riveting history of America’s nuclear weapons program, from World War II through the Cold War, much of it based on recently declassified documents. A cautionary tale, COMMAND AND CONTROL forces viewers to confront the great dilemma that the U.S. has faced since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do we manage weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them?
For additional information about the screenings, please visit www.commandandcontrolfilm.com/screenings.
About the Filmmakers
A Robert Kenner Films production for American Experience
|Directed by||Robert Kenner|
|Screenplay by||Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser|
|Story by||Brian Pearle and Kim Roberts|
|Based on the Book||Command and Control by Eric Schlosser|
|Produced by||Robert Kenner, Melissa Robledo, Mark Samels, and Eric Schlosser|
|Edited byDirectors of Photography
|Kim Roberts, A.C.E.Paul Goldsmith and Jay Redmond
American Experience is a production of WGBH Boston
|Senior Producer||Susan Bellows|
|Managing Director||James E. Dunford|
|Executive Producer||Mark Samels|
Robert Kenner (Producer/Director/Co-Writer) has won an array of awards and garnered rave reviews for his documentary work exposing some of today’s least addressed, yet critical social and environmental issues. His film Food, Inc. was nominated for an Academy Award and won two Emmys. His most recent documentary, Merchants of Doubt, inspired by the acclaimed book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, lifted the curtain on a secretive group of pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities — yet whose contrary aim is to spread maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change. Kenner received Peabody, Emmy and Grierson Awards for his American Experience film Two Days in October, an examination of two key events during the Vietnam conflict and how they shaped Americans’ views of the war. Other films for American Experience include Influenza 1918, John Brown’s Holy War and War Letters. Kenner was also co-filmmaker with Richard Pearce on The Road to Memphis for Martin Scorsese’s series The Blues. He has directed a number of specials for HBO and National Geographic, including the award-winning Don’t Say Goodbye. Kenner has also directed a number of award-winning commercials and corporate videos for eBay, Hewlett Packard, Hallmark and others.
As an investigative journalist, Eric Schlosser (Producer/Co-Writer) tries to explore subjects ignored by the mainstream media and give voice to people at the margins of society. Schlosser’s first book, Fast Food Nation (2001), helped start a revolution in how Americans think about what they eat. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and remained on The New York Times best-seller list for two years. His second book, Reefer Madness (2003), looked at America’s thriving underground economy and was also a New York Times best-seller. Command and Control (2013) was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize (history), a New York Times Notable Book and best-seller, a Time Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Book and won the Gold Medal Award (nonfiction) from the 2013 California Book Awards. An expanded version of Schlosser’s New Yorker article, “Break-In at Y-12,” was recently published as Gods of Metal (2015) in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Gods of Metal explores the risk of nuclear terrorism by telling the story of three Catholic pacifists who broke into one of the most heavily guarded nuclear weapons facilities in the world. His next book is about the American prison system.
Two of Schlosser’s plays, Americans (2003) and We the People (2007), have been produced in London. He served as an executive producer of the films Fast Food Nation (2006), There Will Be Blood (2008), Food Chains (2014) and Hanna Ranch (2014), and as a co-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc.
Mark Samels (Producer/Executive Producer of American Experience). As executive producer of PBS’ flagship history series, Mark Samels conceives, commissions and oversees all American Experience films. Samels has overseen more than 120 films, expanding both the breadth of subjects and the filmmaking style embraced by the series, allowing for more contemporary topics and more witness-driven storytelling. Beginning his career as an independent documentary filmmaker, he held production executive positions at public television stations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before joining WGBH. Samels is a founding member of the International Documentary Association and has served as a governor of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Samels holds honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Emerson College and Elizabethtown College.
About American Experience
For more than 28 years, American Experience has been television’s most-watched history series. The series has been hailed as “peerless” (The Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune) and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards and 17 George Foster Peabody Awards; the series received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 2015 for Last Days in Vietnam. Visit pbs.org/americanexperience and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to learn more.
Exclusive corporate funding for American Experience provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional funding for “Command and Control” provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers. American Experience is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
Additional funding for a national impact campaign for “Command and Control” provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York.