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Austria, 1999 (MIFF 1999, Documentaries)

Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter

In 1986 116,000 people were evacuated from the contaminated area immediately surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor after it became critical. This number was far too few. Eventually this catastrophe, the worst ever in the history of nuclear power, would affect nine million people. 800,000 people were involved in the 'clean-up' effort and the building of the gargantuan concrete and metal sarcophagus that would seal up the highly radioactive plant—80,000 of them are no longer fit to work.

Pripyat is still photographer turned director Nikolaus Geyrhalter's chilling yet strangely beautiful ode to the millions whose lives were permanently altered by this disaster. Concentrating on the 30 kilometre restricted 'zone' that forms the still hot Chernobyl perimeter, Geyrhalter turns his camera on a number of residents, officials, plant workers and soldiers that still move through one ot the most poisonous environments on Earth.

Geyrhalter's stark black and white images and his compassion as an interviewer combine to seduce the viewer across the zone's ominous threshold. Residents constantly refer to the quiet and lack of (normal) animal life that haunts the area. Strangely, some of the older residents are loathe to leave their homes in deserted ghost towns and relish the extra share of almost certainly contaminated fish, milk and produce that is available to them. A ghostly pall of malignancy and dread hangs over their homes and places of work, an almost tangible presence that clearly indicates that this place is not fit for human habitation.

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