"DOWNWINDERS" — 2 stars — directed by Tim Skousen, produced by Tim Skousen and Tyler Bastian, featuring Jay Truman; not rated; 2016 LDS Film Festival
The galloping horses in "The Conquerors" stirred up plenty of the red, southern Utah desert dust as they roared across the ground. Truckloads of it were hauled back to the studios for final filming.
John Wayne as Genghis Khan fell several times from his horse into the red dirt.
If it was dust made lethal by atomic bomb testing in Nevada, the cast and crew breathed it in, worked on it and rolled in it for months.
It's one of the examples shared in "Downwinders," a film screened at the recent LDS Film Festival. The Downwinders is an organization formed to help those downwind from nuclear testing sites seek legal redress from the government.
Jay Truman, founder of the Downwinders organization and featured in the documentary, has a map of Enterprise, a town in southwestern Utah, about 40 miles north of St. George. On the map, as shown in the documentary, every X marks a home where someone died of cancer and almost every home in the tiny town — in the direct path of the fallout from the atomic bomb testing — has an X.
Truman said the ABCs for Enterprise are: "A is for atomic, B is for bomb, C is for cancer and D is for dead."
Truman says in the film and also in the following question and answer session that the above-ground testing sent pinkish gray clouds of residue toward St. George, residue that fell onto the ground and permeated the food supply and water.
Some believe it killed John Wayne (although it's made clear toward the end of the documentary that Wayne and most of the cast smoked heavily without understanding the dangers of smoking). About 90 members of the cast and crew of 220 contracted a cancer. Forty-six of them died from cancer.
The film's producers talked to a variety of people affected by the fallout from the 1950s to the 1960s, including Truman, who has spent his life trying to prove the victims need more medical care and compensation for their losses.
Those interviewed in the film mourn their friends and family and discuss the dramatic impact on their lives. There are facts and numbers, cemetery markers and funeral gatherings shown in the documentary.
It's sobering, infuriating and sad.
Michelle Thomas, a survivor in a wheelchair, recalls being sent out to "frolic in the fallout" during recess at elementary school.
A whole host of individuals go over the past and explain how they figured out what was happening.
Dr. Joseph Lyon, a University of Utah radiobiologist who has conducted studies on thyroid cancer and leukemia, found quite a lot of thyroid disease in the area and defined Enterprise, Utah, as the "hottest place" for radiated soil in the nation.
That meant the backyard cows and backyard goats were drinking and eating radiation, Lyon said. Also, "Downwinders" points out that the Shivwits Indians were exposed and never warned.
Children were more affected because their cells were growing during the time of the most severe radiation, Lyon said in "Downwinders."
Most of the damage was done on May 19, 1953, with a huge bomb that affected 40 states, "not just southern Utah," Lyon said.
The film is informative and mostly watchable, though a tad long.
It also loses some credibility when Truman reveals that he's a lifelong smoker and that 41 percent of the cast for "The Conquerors" smoked as well.
It's shot well and the inclusion of actual bombs going off is unnerving. The shot of the nuclear testing site and the wasteland created is haunting.
It's a sobering film with no happy ending.
The documentary is available at downwindersdoc.com.
"Downwinders" is not rated, and would likely be PG-13 for thematic elements and disturbing images; running time: 87 minutes.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.