Atomic City is a meditation on the town of Arco, Idaho. A place that could otherwise be considered pedestrian among the gritty settlements and sagebrush plains of the West, Arco lays claim to the fact it was the first city in the world lit with atomic power.
On July 17, 1955 an experimental reactor lit the town’s lights for just over an hour in the middle of the night. This moment in time is marked each year through the town’s biggest celebration which includes a ping pong ball drop, parade down main street, and an all-class reunion.
At one time Arco seemed to be on the glowing edge of a future filled with clean energy, jobs and unlimited growth. This version of the future never panned out. Arco’s nuclear heritage has been overshadowed with the collective impressions generated by the perils of Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Nearly 60 years later, Arco remains a town of just under 1000 residents, struggling to establish it’s identity and resist fading into the backdrop of the American West. Atomic City weaves together ethereal portraits with astrological and classical archetypes to create a melancholy collage of a forgotton town on the edge of the atomic frontier.
I was surprised to learn that the lighting of the town in 1955 by an experimental reactor only lasted a few hours, and I became intrigued by the way the people of Arco chose to identify with the promise of a moment that seems unfulfilled in our modern nuclear climate. Observing additional themes of identity, disillusionment and loss on an individual level, I left wondering how place shapes our collective identity and how our collective identity informs our individuality. My goal with ATOMIC CITY was to explore these questions through a poetic, melancholy portrait, with references to astrocartography and collective mythologies, in order to provide a glimpse into a place lost in time yet full of archetypal depth and dignity.
Written & Directed by: David McMurry
Executive Producer: Bradley Beesley
Producer: Ben Steinbauer
Cinematography: David McMurry
Additional Camera: Carl Davis, Bradley Beesley, Ben Steinbauer
Sound: Royce Sharp
Edited by: JoLynn Garnes and Isaac Gale
Original Music: BJ Burton, Mark McGee, Isaac Gale
Sound Mix: Dory Kahale
Colorist: Alan Novey