AIFF: Stalking Chernobyl

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Stalking Chernobyl: Exploration After Apocalypse (Available April 28-29)

Chernobyl, Ukraine, was a town that was expected to last for millennia, especially due to the nuclear power station installed there in 1977 by the Soviet Union. The nearby town of Pripyat, Ukraine, was supported by the station, and the people of Pripyat lived in the blissful combination of nature and technology—well, for nine years. On April 26, 1986, a surge of power during a reactor systems test destroyed Unit 4 of the station, starting a fire and releasing boat loads of radioactive material. Now, 35 years later, the city and surrounding areas are abandoned ghost towns and forests—except for the Stalkers.

The film begins with a history lesson, most from 1974 to 1994 when 15 films were made about the incident, including footage of hundreds of people calmly evacuating in flip flops and house clothes, not alarmed and not knowing that the evacuation would be for life. Since then, the strongest and most deadly radiation is lessening, but some will still be present for many years to come. Regardless, nearly 40,000 tourists from all over the world visited last year. Some “urbexers,” those engaged in the sport of climbing abandoned buildings (it is big in Europe), some photographers, some video game fans who have played games set in Chernobyl, but the most hardcore tourists of Chernobyl are the Stalkers.

Stalkers are those who enter the restricted zone at Chernobyl, and make it back out. Many return over and over, they seem obsessed with simply going to the place, exploring, camping out for awhile, some eat the fruit that grows there and drink the water there. After the dark history lesson to start off with, it is crazy to watch. Interestingly, many are the children of the “liquidators” of the nuclear plant, “bio-robots” who were sent in after the incident to manually do the clean up when mechanical robots failed. One daughter of a liquidator reports that her father worked there for four years, because the money was good, but he died six years later.

Perhaps it is the eerie footage, the ominous music, or the list of multiple radioactive events that have happened all over the world over the past 20 years, but the whole film leaves a person humbled. SJW

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