Richter’s Film Opens Eyes to the Power of Protest


Author: Laura Bowen

Robert Richter, class of ’50, presented a screening of his documentary In Our Hands last Wednesday night in Fowler 302.

The film documents the protest against nuclear proliferation on June 12th, 1982 in New York City. Richter, who has been nominated for three Academy Awards, said, “One million people came together with one voice.” This made it one of the largest gatherings in United States history.

Richter was obviously inspired by the events that he filmed, saying it was “probably the most extraordinary experience I had in putting together a film.” The footage was shot by 43 different film crews, two of which were police crews who were able to get up-close interviews and shots of the giant police force needed to watch the crowds. The crews were made up entirely of volunteers.Richter introduced the film stressing ways to achieve political change.

“One of the things you can do is march and parade with others who share your views,” he said.

The film interspersed images of performances from artists, speakers, and interviews with ordinary people and cops, with footage of the massive crowds walking through the streets to Central Park.

Musical performances included appearances by James Taylor, Rita Marley, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Coretta Scott King and Orson Welles, among others, made speeches stressing the need for another UN special session on disarmament that would transfer military budgets to fund human needs. Aerial shots of the crowd gathering in Central Park were visually stunning, as was footage of the crowds releasing thousands of balloons that read, “Goodbye to Nuclear Weapons.”

“This powerful movement contributed to . . . the end of the Cold War,” he said. The footage certainly made this point believable.

While the footage of this historic event was certainly interesting, segments of performances and speeches tended to drag on a bit too long. What was consistently compelling was the footage of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. This event has been downplayed in the U.S., so their descriptions of the aftermath, as well as the gruesome photos of scorched corpses, were both unprecedented and shocking.

After the airing of In Our Hands, on public television, Richter was actually contacted by a friend of one of the women shown speaking about the events. She asked him to make a documentary about her friend’s experiences, and so this led him to another project, The Last Atomic Bomb.

Also fascinating was that after the completion of this film, it was not shown or aired anywhere until twenty years later.”PBS would not run it,” Richter said. Richter recalled that even immediately following the event, “The media pretty much ignored it.”

Although the Cold War and the immediate threat of nuclear war has been over for around 20 years, Richter believes that the film’s message has maintained its relevance. “It resonates today [even though] it’s not a danger that people are as conscious as [they were] back in 1982.” Nuclear weapons certainly are, and should be, of concern to the American public–especially given our volatile relationship with Iran.

David Elam (sophomore) said, “I knew nothing about this protest before I saw the film. It was pretty amazing.”

Jordan Bernhardt (junior) agreed, “It’s definitely an overlooked moment in American history.”

Hopefully, Richter’s film will keep the memory of the 1982 protest alive.

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