Half the cast and crew involved with the John Wayne film, The Conqueror, shot in 1954 and released two years later, died of cancer.
They were the most high-profile victims of the fallout from atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site, which contaminated land, water and people. Although the film location site, in St. George, Utah, was more than 100 miles away, the radiation levels there were so high that when Wayne tested them with a Geiger counter he thought the equipment was broken. As The Guardian described it in a 2015 article, “the United States turned swathes of the desert radioactive during the cold war and denied it.”
Now, a new documentary directed by Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller — Downwind — is premiering at the Slamdance film festival, telling the stories of St. George citizens and activists harmed by the radioactive fallout from the Nevada Test Site. Libbe HaLevy talks to Shapiro on this week’s Nuclear Hotseat.