10 Minutes With Robert Kenner: What We Need to Know about Making Command & Control and Nuclear Weapons

Walking out of a screening of Command and Control, I turned to my colleague Kait and said “Well, I’m definitely not going to be able to sleep tonight.” Director Robert Kenner crafted a thriller, far scarier than any horror film I’ve ever seen — all because everything in his film really happened. In 1980, a warhead atop Titan II missile came dangerously close to exploding at a strategic Air Command (SAC) silo near Damascus, Arkansas. The near catastrophic incident was triggered by a very small mistake — a socket wrench accidentally slipped from a worker’s hand, and opened a hole in the fuel tank. But what prevented a wider catastrophe was sheer luck. Millions of lives were at stake and luck, that’s right, luck saved them.

We interviewed Mr. Kenner earlier this week and here are the eight things we found out about the film and nuclear weapons that everyone needs to know:

1. Nuclear weapons are THE most important subject no one is talking about today. And especially in an election year. Congress has to approve a declaration of war, but the president has the authority and discretion to launch a nuclear weapon. Come this election day, we really need to think about who we can trust with the nuclear codes.

2. There used to be 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and today there are only 15,000 remaining. This is tremendous progress and we all certainly safer because of it. The more of these weapons you have, the greater risk of an accident.

3. So what will helping us sleep a little easier? “We have to believe that our missiles are the safer here than anywhere else in the world.” The key right now, is ensuring our leaders worldwide are committed to investing in the infrastructure and safety precautions as well as dismantling them.

4. While making the film there was a post-it on his avid editing bay that read, “We’re making a thriller.”

5. This movie has been shown in the halls of power — it is being shown to leaders, elected officials and secretaries of defense. Well told stories have a way to bring leaders together and focus their attention. Command & Control is doing just that.

6. “I’m not doing it if I don’t get into the silo. There was no other way they wanted to make the movie,” said Robert Kenner. The re-enactments in the film are truly breathtaking and Mr. Kenner said there was no plan B if they didn’t get permission to film in the missile silo that was an exact replica of the TYPE II silo. There were 54 silos and only one remains, which has been turned into a museum.

7. One of the most compelling parts of the film is the inciting incident — it was a such a tiny mistake. And mistakes happen all the time. Technology of this kind still relies on human interaction and this is terrifying.

8. Dave Powell is the man that accidentally dropped the socket wrench. His mom had no idea of this incident and only recently found out about this traumatic event three weeks ago at a screening of the film.

We would like to thank filmmaker Robert Kenner for his generosity with his time, and his dedication to sharing this incredible story. Command and Control is one of the most important films of the year, bringing an urgent global issue back into the spotlight. Find a screening of Command and Control in your community and bring your friends, family, co-workers, and everyone you know to theaters with you!

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By Wendy Cohen: Partner, President of Impact Campaigns @wendynuale

Wendy is a partner and principal at Picture Motion playing a leading role in business development, strategic planning, managing campaigns and digital strategy. Prior to joining the Picture Motion family, Wendy was the Senior Director of Film Campaigns at Participant Media where she developed innovative online and mobile initiatives for Charlie Wilson’s War, The Visitor, Food Inc, The Cove, Waiting forSuperman”, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere and A Place at the Table. Wendy was born and raised in Montreal and began her career in film in 2003 as the Programmer and Outreach Coordinator for the Media That Matters Film Festival and Media That Matters: Good Food project. In 2006, she became the first Community Manager for The Huffington Post in New York City. Wendy produced Every Third Bite in 2009, an award-winning short documentary about bees hailed as a “better bee movie” by New York Magazine, she produced the 2011 Sundance Institute trailer titled Light is Love and recently completed production on her first short narrative film titled The Goldfish. Wendy continues to be a guest lecturer and panelist at festivals and schools around the country and has been profiled in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Hollywood Reporter and Mashable. She is a recipient of the 2010 New Leaders Council’s 40 Under 40 Leadership Award.