Andrew Suprenant, Monica Ross
and Clayton Brown
The documentary The Atom Smashers – a film created by faculty and alumni from the School of Communication at Northwestern University – will air Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 10:30 p.m. Central Time on WTTW (Chicago’s channel 11). The project was acquired by PBS for the 2008-09 season of its Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series Independent Lens.
The documentary was co-directed by Clayton Brown, who earned his MFA in film from the School of Communication in 2004 and teaches narrative and documentary film production in the School’s radio/television/film department, and Monica Ross, who received her film MFA in 2003 from the School and is now associate artistic director of The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company. They will both be interviewed on the WBEZ radio show “848” sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 25, the same day as the WTTW premiere of their film. They will also be on WGN radio (720 AM) live at 2 p.m. that day to discuss the documentary.
A true “Northwestern event” as Brown calls it, The Atom Smashers was produced by 2002 radio/television/film alumnus Andrew Suprenant, while 2000 alumna Stefani Foster was the cinematographer. Foster, Suprenant, Brown, Ross, and other collaborators are founders of the Chicago-based nonprofit documentary production company 137 Films, which produced the film. Several Northwestern undergraduates also participated as interns on the project.
The Atom Smashers has been screened nationally in a few locations as well as in Canada, Norway, Italy, and France, where it won the “Audacity Award” at the 2008 Pariscience Film Festival.
The Atom Smashers is about a group of American physicists leading the international search for the Higgs boson, a particle important to understanding how the universe is held together — the “holy grail” of physics. Using an aging particle accelerator while facing a government and culture sometimes at odds with science, the physicists race against a far more powerful European accelerator that threatens to upstage them and the U.S. science program.
“During the three or four years we worked on the film, we saw the story we were following echoed in the press again and again, gaining in intensity,” says Brown. “We knew we were onto something big, unfolding before our eyes, and it’s great that PBS recognized the timeliness and scope of what was captured on tape, in order to bring it to more than five million viewers. That’s an incredible achievement for our first collective film.”
While the team is thrilled that the PBS broadcast will give the film national attention, Ross notes that the story is local as well as national and international — the scientists depicted in the film work at Fermilab, the national accelerator laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. “Getting the word out in the Chicago area is important,” explains Ross. “We have some of the most exciting scientists and scientific machines in the world working in our own backyard, and that makes the story of The Atom Smashers particularly important for the citizens of Illinois.”
137 Films was founded to create films out of the stories found in the world of science and to entertain, educate, and inform by exploring how science’s search for answers impacts our cultural, political, and personal lives. The Atom Smashers is also available for purchase on DVD at the 137 Films web site, 137films.org.