At Cannes: Valerie Plame Wilson Pulls Double Duty


Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson has been hardly covert in her appearances at the Cannes Film Festival. In the Doug Liman film Fair Game, screening for the press on Thursday, she's played by Naomi Watts. But today, she's doing press for a documentary film in which she appears, Countdown to Zero.

Produced Lawrence Bender and Participant Media -- the same team that brought us An Inconvenient Truth -- and directed by documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker (Wasteland, Blindsight, Devil's Playground), Countdown makes a lock-solid argument for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Despite that, the entire film feels way more public service announcement than serious documentary.

Through interviews with such luminaries as Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Plame Wilson, Tony Blair, and countless scientist and policy wonks, the film soberingly portrays a world in which nuclear weapons could be used by "accident, miscalculation, or madness," to quote John F. Kennedy. Those three themes are used as jumping-off points to hammer home the argument of No Nukes. And the theme of nuclear annihilation is vividly and graphically explained over and over in the film: projected blast sites of urban areas, the nuclear fallout, the instant blindness caused by those who view it. If that's not scary enough for you, it only gets worse from there. After all, we're told, a tennis-ball-sized amount of highly enriched uranium is all it takes to wipe out New York City.

Since there's really no counterargument -- no way to hear from the nuclear-weapons-are-awesome group -- Countdown is basically a one-note call to action; we're told at the end of the film to go to the Web site of Global Zero where we can do more to stop nuclear weapons. While the aims of the film are inarguable (completely rid the world of nukes), the distracting alt-music score and pointless man-on-the-street interviews cheapen the film's message. Countless Joe Blows saying,"There should be no nuclear weapons!" do little to advance the film's serious messages.

At a press conference following the special screening and premiere, Plame Wilson was joined by Walker, Bender, Queen Noor of Jordan, among others. The Queen was on hand to show her support for Global Zero. Plame Wilson was asked about her dual role at the festival: focal point of Fair Game (about the famous CIA leak) and interviewee for Countdown to Zero. After admitting she thought the idea of Naomi Watts playing her was "surreal," she got down to the issue nearest to her heart: nuclear disarmament.

"This opportunity to be involved in this project has been a gift," said Plame Wilson of her work in the documentary. She revealed there was no grand plan to come to Cannes with both these films at the same time, but clearly she relished working on the documentary. "When Lucy interviewed me," she said, "I was able to talk about things without fear of partisan reprisal, because this is what really matters in terms of all of our futures."

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