The restoration will premiere at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 10 with a nationwide release this summer and a home entertainment debut in the fall. The doc is composed entirely of civil defense and propaganda films created by the U.S. military and other agencies, and when it hit theaters 36 years ago, it hysterically debunked myths about nuclear weapons and landed the filmmakers on Late Night With David Letterman. The pic was also named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Released at the height of the arms race with the U.S.S.R., Atomic Cafe continues to echo in era when Russia is looking to regain leverage with its nukes again, not to mention North Korea’s urgency to show its nuclear muscle against the United States.
Using the government’s own films, the doc pulled back the curtain to expose how Americans were taught to “stop worrying and love the bomb.” A cute cartoon assures children that ducking under their desks will protect them from radiation. A U.S. Army officer asserts the atomic bomb is a beautiful sight “when viewed at a safe distance,” as people watch young soldiers running towards a mushroom cloud.
The 4K digital restoration was created by IndieCollect, a New York-based non-profit organization that saves and restores American independent films so that they can be seen in state-of-the-art digital formats. Funding was provided by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, administered through a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).