Peter Watkins

Peter Watkins / b. 1935, UK / lives and works in France


The 5th Ural Biennial Main Project features the work:
«The War Game» (Film, 1965)
Courtesy of the artist and BBCStudioLearning

Peter Watkins is a film and television director. A pioneer of docudrama, Watkins’s films use a combination of dramatic and documentary elements to dissect historical occurrences or possible near future events.

The War Game (1965), uses the style of a mock BBC news program to report (in documentary style) on the devastating occurrence and consequences of a nuclear attack in Kent, England. The extraordinarily violent and horrifying shots of smashed buildings, flying debris, bleeding children, and burned flesh make visible a false history in the place of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, real events of which no film was recorded at the time. (There is indeed abundant historical footage of the mushroom cloud, the aftermath of the bombing, and the architectural ruins.

However there are no recordings of the atomic event as it is brutally rendered in Watkins’s film.) The fabricated images thus play an alarming role: by creating tragic images, they appeal for preventative action. More importantly, by appropriating the fiction of technological progress, the film reveals the great scheme of modernity’s universal claim by means of fabrication, falsification, and decontextualization to fill the void of history. The War Game won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966, even though the BBC decided not to show it at the time, as “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.” The film was finally televised on July 31, 1985.