The Journey / Resan / Le Voyage (1987) 5 x DVD9
Every generation deserves a rabble-rouser as committed and ambitious as Peter Watkins. During the mid-80’s, at the height of U.S.-Soviet nuclear tensions, Watkins traveled the world in order to make a film for peace – a 14-hour documentary broken into 18 installments entitled The Journey. Watkins’ goal was to demonstrate that despite the enormous network that has been established to stockpile nuclear weaponry - with the deadliest of bombs and missiles being constructed and transported right under our noses - the general public still remains largely ignorant about even the most basic concepts associated with the technology and its potential consequences. Watkins further asserts that the news media of the United States, Canada, England and Australia has failed to properly educate citizens about the growing nuclear danger and has, on the contrary, confused and mislead its viewers. Finally, Watkins ties in the expenditure made for nuclear weaponry to the lack of funds available to aid the starving populations of the world.

5 x DVD9 | NTSC 4:3 | 14 hrs 30 mins | 36.7 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English
Subtitles: Francais, English (for non-English parts)
Genre: Documentary, War


Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of The Journey is the extraordinary amount of information that Watkins unearths about how nuclear weapons are created within our midst. Although many of us may think that this activity goes on in top secret facilities tucked away somewhere beyond our reach, Watkins shows us that the technology for these weapons is developed at our universities, built in our factories and transported along railways that run through our neighborhoods. The task is divided up sufficiently so that very few people have to actually take personal responsibility for the creation of death devices. An individual factory worker may only know that he is responsible for the creation of one part. It is therefore easy to remain willfully ignorant of the part’s eventual purpose. In order to get at the truth, one would have to ask uncomfortable questions of authority figures responsible for your employment and break a taboo that dictates silence on the matter.

In some communities, conscientious objectors may not only be out of a job, but also branded by their neighbors as a political radical. As Watkins shows a train carrying an enormous amount of nuclear weaponry through a seemingly peaceful Washington town, the scene eerily calls to mind Resnais’ Holocaust documentary Night and Fog and the way in which grotesque acts were committed in neighborhoods where citizens dutifully went about their daily routine. Watkins covers so much territory that the likelihood that he will touch upon a surprising fact about an area near you is high, no matter what continent you currently occupy. Doggedly, Watkins works to lift the veil of silence that dominates the subject and provide average citizens with sobering information so that they may make a decision about whether or not they will remain complicit in these activities. However, Watkins also shows that effective protests are not easy to accomplish, particularly with a media that is all too willing to side with authority. When protestors decide to stand in the way of the aforementioned train, the local news story shows them being dragged away forcefully by police. The train carrying deadly weapons is not shown. The subject of the protest is not discussed. The objections are effectively marginalized.

For the most part, Watkins’ film staggers the viewer with both statistics (the hungry all over the world could be fed with what is spent on the arms race in two weeks) and scope. Watkins talks with witnesses to Hiroshima and Allied bombing in Germany. He talks to Algerians who are subject to prejudice in France, women in Mozambique who struggle to maintain their community despite war and poverty, and also Polynesians who live near the site of nuclear testing. In Australia and Norway, he stages speculative improvisations with non-actors, demonstrating how nonsensical and inadequate government guidelines are for handling post-nuclear situations. And yet, The Journey’s greatest strength also turns out to be the thing that keeps it from having the impact of some of Watkins’ shorter films like The War Game and Punishment Park. Watkins lays out an extraordinary case in the first two-thirds of his film and then spends much of the last third cycling back over points that have already been established. When he uses low-tech video to allow a family in Britain to communicate directly with a family in Russia without the filter of the media or the government, the resulting appeals for peace are moving. However, how many families around the world do we need to see arrive at the same conclusion: that family is essentially just like me.

The size of Watkins’ film coupled with the vitriolic nature of his attack on the media and government proved troublesome. Despite what obviously was an enormous amount of research, time, energy and dedication, the film has appeared on television exactly three times since its release according to the director’s website. Longer is the list of international TV stations that refused to air the film. Consequently, the documentary has appeared only at the occasional film festival or special screening. Perhaps the difficulties that Watkins has faced mirror the problems we face with the nuclear problem. The subject is so taboo, the conspiracy of silence so fierce and the cruel effects of the weaponry so surreal that it is hard for the average citizen to digest. Still, it is hard to imagine another filmmaker having the patience and courage to tackle such a noble use of the medium. Latest word is that Watkins is attempting to bring The Journey to DVD. If so, the number of people who have seen this work will multiply enormously. Despite being over two decades old, The Journey still holds much that could make the world a better place.

Related posts:

  1. The Andrei Tarkovsky Companion: The Moscow Elegy / Moskovskaya elegiya (1987), A Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch / Une journee d’Andrei Arsenevitch (2001), Voyage in Time / Tempo di viaggio (1983) 2 x DVD5
  2. Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972) DVD9, DVD5
  3. Fortunes of War (1987) 2 x DVD9
  4. Ziveli! Medicine for the Heart (1987) DVD5
  5. Creepozoids (1987) DVD5