Radium City

Carole Langer’s explosive and shocking documentary about radioactivity in Ottawa, Illinois, and the 65 years the town’s inhabitants worked for the Radium Chemical Company. A large number of workersspecifically women who filled in the numbers on clock dials with luminous paintdied of cancer, but the story doesn’t end there; the high school building where the women worked was eventually dismantled, with pieces from it distributed all over town, and the whole environment became radioactive. Langer’s approach to this subject is patient, thorough, and profoundly human; she lets the facts emerge from the material and follows the complex ramifications of the story right up to the present. The result is something more than powerful investigative journalism: one comes to know a great deal about the inner workings of this community and the frightening degree of irresponsibility and callousness on the part of the government, but Langer’s approach is anything but preachy, and the sympathetic rapport that she achieves with many of the town’s inhabitants creates a multidimensional portrait. (JR)

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