online (April 2020)
A look at Chernobyl today, focused on legal and illegal visitations to the exclusion zone.
More than three decades ago, on April 26, 1986, an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union resulted in an explosion and reactor core fire that released radioactivity into the surrounding area. An exclusion zone was created around the site, which has expanded in the years since to cover 1000 square miles, and aside from some stubborn holdouts, the area was evacuated of people and animals. In her latest film, director Iara Lee explores the legacy of the disaster, surveying various individuals connected to the site, including survivors who were evacuated, but largely focuses on visitors. In recent years, legal tour companies have arisen to bring curiosity seekers to the area, including, interestingly, an uptick of interest from Japanese tourists following Fukushima. This has encroached on the historically illicit activities of self-proclaimed “stalkers.” Named after the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky allegorical science fiction film, these thrill-seekers have been exploring the zone, either apathetic or dubious about the dangers of radiation exposure, and begin to gather together here to share information. While the subject matter is fascinating, Lee’s is not the first film to explore Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, and her survey approach – and too limited running time – fails to dig deep enough be particularly memorable.