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Uranium Derby

A filmmaker discovers that her hometown of Ames, IA, was secretly involved in the Manhattan Project.

A printer-friendly version of this page 83 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Brittany Prater
Produced by Brittany Prater
Director of Photography: Kate Stryker, Britt Prater
Camera: Scott Kovach
Editors: Cheyenne Picardo, Lisa Gross, Britt Prater
Writer: Britt Prater
Music Composition: Zeljko McMullen
A Cornfield Productions Film

"A compelling...account that unveils another community where...nuclear secrecy has harmed generations." Stephanie Malin, Center for Envl Justice, CO State University
URANIUM DERBY centers around an experiment gone wrong—the American nuclear experiment. In the film, director Brittany Prater's investigation into her Iowa hometown's secret involvement in the Manhattan Project triggers a chain reaction of encounters through which it becomes clear that the topic of nuclear waste was more successfully buried than the waste itself. This film depicts the manner in which toxic nuclear waste, generated and collected in a few specific places, was allowed to spread to numerous sites around a small Midwestern university town and subsequently the country.

URANIUM DERBY shows how the problems associated with nuclear waste, first brought about by naive experimentation, were then compounded by a sense of denial. The culture of secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project extends into the present day as corporate interests and federal policy combine to hinder the cleanup of thousands of contaminated sites.

Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2024     Copyright Date: 2023
DVD ISBN: 1-961192-14-4

"Deeply personal...Illuminating...[Serves as] a reminder that nuclear waste cannot be seen or smelled and can lurk beneath an apparently idyllic landscape, doing its damage in secret."
Linda Pentz Gunter, Beyond Nuclear International

"Impressive. Uranium Derby is a fascinating - and alarming - testament to the continuing human costs of the nuclear age."
Gregg Herken, Professor Emeritus of History, UC-Merced and UC-Santa Cruz, Author, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller

"This personal journey into a forgotten history of a corner of the Manhattan Project reminds us that the development of the atomic bomb didn't just happen at the secret city of Los Alamos, but at places like Grand Junction, Colorado; Fernald, Ohio; Tonawanda, New York; and even Ames, Iowa. It also shows the process by which an everyday person like filmmaker Brittany Prater can uncover not only that history but the ongoing environmental legacies of nuclear development in the United States."
Michael Amundson, Professor of History, Northern Arizona University, Author, Yellowcake Towns: Uranium Mining Communities in the American West

"Uranium Derby offers interesting insights into a largely forgotten chapter of Iowa's environmental history. Through careful research, a plethora of interviews, and insightful storytelling, documentarian Brittany Prater thoughtfully investigates the legacy of the project to build the atomic bomb in Ames, Iowa. An engaging opportunity for audiences to explore an important topic in Iowa's past, the film promises to dig into an oft-forgotten history which refuses to stay buried."
Kevin Mason, Associate Professor of History, Waldorf University, Founder, Notes on Iowa

"A compelling and contemplative account that unveils another community where the slow violence of nuclear secrecy has harmed generations. Ames, Iowa - like Monticello, Utah, or Church Rock, New Mexico - shows us just how many places unknowingly sacrificed environmental justice for atomic technology."
Stephanie Malin, Associate Professor of Sociology, Co-Founder, Center for Environmental Justice, Colorado State University, Author, The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice

"Using historical documents, oral histories, and in-depth understanding of this locale to excavate an important and ongoing American story, Uranium Derby reveals one of the many human tales behind the mythic Manhattan Project. In honest and forthright detail, the film reveals the long-term health impacts of radioactive waste to humans and one community's efforts to manage this national trust. What does Ames' experience tell us about America? What is the responsibility to help places like Ames that became infected to help a cause of national importance? This important film can begin such in depth inquiry in history or environmental science courses while also reinforcing the importance of OSHA and environmental politics and regulation. Uranium Derby masterfully humanizes this complicated issue with history and relevance."
Brian Black, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Pennsylvania State University-Altoona, Editor, Energy and Society

"This powerful and fascinating film follows an investigation into a town's dark secret that many people don't want to talk about. Ames, Iowa, a classic Midwestern town among the cornfields, hosted a little-known laboratory that helped build the atomic bomb. Viewers get caught up as they watch a reporter dig deep into the lab's local radioactive legacy."
Mark Stoll, Professor of Environmental History, Texas Tech University, Author, Profit: An Environmental History

"Uranium Derby captures the fears, uncertainties, and local activism of communities affected by toxic contamination in the United States. While the story of Ames is unique, it highlights the experiences faced by hundreds of other communities in recent history."
Johnathan Williams, Assistant Professor of History, University of Northern Iowa

"In Uranium Derby, filmmaker Prater tells the story of Iowa State University's involvement in the Manhattan Project during WWII. This history is 'buried' for two reasons: even Iowans know little about the Ames Laboratory, and few in the community are aware that dangerous radioactive materials were stored around the town, creating risk for workers and residents. Through interviews and archival work, Prater unearths a story that will cause communities to question their right to know about environmental health as well as appreciate living history."
Amahia Mallea, Associate Professor of History, Drake University, Author, A River in the City of Fountains: An Environmental History of Kansas City and the Missouri River

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
SDH Captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection

The Film's Website

Awards and Festivals
Best Feature Documentary, Art of Brooklyn Film Festival
Yellow Einstein Award, International Uranium Film Festival
Pride of Iowa Award, Iowa Independent Film Festival
Award of Excellence, Direction Long Form Nonfiction, Iowa Motion Picture Awards,
Award of Achievement, Editing Long Form, Iowa Motion Picture Awards
New Haven International Film Festival
Oneota Film Festival

American Studies
Environmental Justice
National Security
Nuclear Energy

Social Psychology
Toxic Chemicals

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