Precarious is a road movie. The journey starts, 1,000 kilometres away, in Crimea, in inverse direction to the flow of contaminated water from Chernobyl, via the Pripyat and Dnieper Rivers, to the Black Sea. It takes us right into the heart of Chernobyl. To Reactor No. 4. Our companions are an unseen group of people who have experienced Chernobyl at first hand.
In early 2009, I arranged a trip to Chernobyl. It was in the middle of a heavy winter. I drove into Chernobyl past houses still contaminated by radiation, and further along, more toxic houses buried under a thick layer of clay. The power plant structures sat in a vast white lake - the iced-over cooling channels and cooling pond. These structures were terminally damaged, incomplete or obsolete. Reactor No.4, the site of the original explosion, was awaiting a new containment to cover the breached sarcophagus that had been hastily erected in 1986. Later, alone in the middle of the abandoned city of Pripyat, surrounded by thick snow and heavy silence, it felt like after the end of the world. That's when Precarious started to take shape.
I returned a year later. It was harder to ignore the organic, volatile 200-ton lump of congealed, toxic core material still lying in the basement of Reactor No.4, or the under- resourced remediation and containment work being planned, postponed or undertaken. Construction work still hadn’t started on the new Sarcophagus. I talked to people who had lived with the aftermath of the explosion. The grey, bleak, winter landscapes were paradoxically, reassuring, and became the visual motif of the film. In Chernobyl, a heavy winter is good protection against radiation, because radioactive dust is trapped under the ice and snow. But there is always the danger that in spring, flooding will occur, and once again contaminated water will run from the Pripyat River to the Black Sea, a thousand kilometres to the south.
As well as footage shot in Crimea, Kiev, Chernobyl, I use the contemporary voices and stories of a range of people who have experienced Chernobyl at first hand– they include a doctor, a scientist, a teacher, a former liquidator, and a present day worker at Chernobyl. Their testimony evokes lived experience rather than history to frame the extreme uncertainty and doubt surrounding Chernobyl today. Without a linear narrative to grasp, a flow of fragments accumulates to build a sense of the utter precariousness of it all.
Avoiding the conventions of a standard documentary approach, Precarious is concerned with ordinary people’s capacity to endure, in the face of technological failure and state secrecy on a grand scale, and the fragility of nature.