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  • 11/05/08

    Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic, a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of a Grand Opera about Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb

    Film premieres on the PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 9 PM

    Visit the companion website >>

    “Art and science form a combustible fusion in Jon Else’s elegant and wide-ranging WONDERS ARE MANY: The Making of Doctor Atomic. A dazzling case of the right filmmaker attached to the right subject.” —Robert Koehler, Variety

    “Enthralling … a profound and sorrowful meditation on warfare, the possibility of nuclear annihilation and how developing a doomsday weapon affected the lives of the scientists building it.” —Stephen Holden, The New York Times

    (San Francisco, CA)—In WONDERS ARE MANY: The Making of Doctor Atomic, acclaimed filmmaker Jon Else achieves the impossible by combining two of his epic fascinations—nuclear weapons and opera—in one film. Each subject had been explored by Else in earlier projects: nuclear weapons in the Academy Award–nominated The Day After Trinity: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb (1979) and opera in Sing Faster: The Stagehands Ring Cycle (2000), which took viewers backstage from the perspective of those who really do the heavy lifting.

    WONDERS ARE MANY goes behind the scenes once again, this time to follow the collaborative process of composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars as they work to forge the tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer into a music drama like no other: the strange and beautiful Doctor Atomic. As Sellars and Adams struggle to make high art from the most savage weapon in history, the film explores the spectacular and unnerving 60-year history of nuclear weapons. It shows the real events behind the drama on stage and the unintended consequences of the actions—and inactions—of men working on the first nuclear device. WONDERS ARE MANY premieres on Tuesday, December 16, at 9 PM (check local listings) as part of the seventh season of the Emmy® Award–winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Terrence Howard.

    Weaving the intense and sometimes hilarious process of making an opera with newly declassified historical film clips of Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project and nuclear testing, WONDERS ARE MANY focuses on the 48 hours leading up to the Trinity atomic test in July 1945.

    The film unfolds in the deserts of Nevada and New Mexico and in the backstage frenzy at the San Francisco Opera. At the center of a swirling vortex of singers, scenery, physicists, stagehands and bombs stand the indomitable Sellars and Adams. Simultaneously tracking the creation of both the bomb and the opera, the film builds in tension toward the terrible and inevitable bang.

    To learn more about the film and the issues, visit the companion website for WONDERS ARE MANY at pbs.org/independentlens/wondersaremany. Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions.

    About the Filmmakers Jon Else, Producer/Writer/Director
    Jon Else’s film The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb was described by Tom Shales in The Washington Post as “the best film ever made about living intimately with doom of our own design.” Winner of the first-ever documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1980, it has been broadcast repeatedly in virtually every developed country over the past 20 years. It is used widely in schools and universities and in institutions as varied as the Pentagon, the CIA and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    In 2000, Else released Sing Faster: The Stagehands Ring Cycle, which won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance and that year’s National Emmy for Best Documentary. This film looks at the grand moral narratives of Richard Wagner’s epic Der Ring Des Niebelungen entirely through the eyes of union stagehands at the San Francisco Opera. Else also produced and directed Cadillac Desert (1997), Palace of Delights: The Exploratorium (1983) and Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1989) for the Sundance Institute; A Job at Ford’s for Henry Hampton’s PBS series The Great Depression (1992); and Open Outcry (2001). He was series producer and cinematographer for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1987) and has photographed hundreds of documentaries for PBS, the BBC, ABC, MTV and HBO, including the BBC/PBS History of Rock and Roll (1993), Who Are the DeBolts (1976, Academy Award winner), Paramount/MTV’s feature Tupac Resurrection (2003, Academy Award nominee), Barbara Kopple’s recent documentary on rapper MC Hammer, and Doug Hamilton’s Alice Waters (2003), as well as dozens of music videos and concert films. He has just returned from doing camera work in Afghanistan for a PBS documentary about that country’s new constitution.

    Else was a MacArthur Fellow from 1988 to 1993, has won four National Emmys (for writing, producing, directing and cinematography), several Columbia-duPont awards, Polk Awards and Peabody Awards, and the Prix Italia and has earned several Academy Award nominations.

    Bonni Cohen, Producer Bonni Cohen founded Actual Films, an independent documentary film company based in San Francisco in 1998. Cohen produced and directed a film about the last Christians of Bethlehem for National Geographic and is currently making another film for them. She recently executive produced and co-directed The Rape of Europa, a two-hour historical documentary about the fate of Europe’s art treasures during World War II. Cohen co-produced Democracy Afghan Style (2004), about Afghanistan’s constitutional process, for PBS in the United States and for Arté in France and Germany. In 2003, she produced and directed The New Heroes, a series for PBS, hosted by Robert Redford, about social entrepreneurs around the world.

    In 2001, Cohen produced and directed The Nobel: Visions of Our Century (2001), a chronicle of 100 years of the Nobel Prize told from the perspectives of 11 Nobel laureates that was broadcast on PBS. For the BBC she directed and produced Eye of the Storm (1999), an intimate, vérité portrait of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York. Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in more than 125 countries. For PBS, she co-produced They Drew Fire (1998), a portrait of the combat artists of World War II. Her other works include The Human Sexes With Desmond Morris, an Emmy®-nominated six-part series about gender differences around the world, and two episodes of the Emmy® Award–winning series Eyewitness, for PBS. She was the producer of Jon Else’s film Open Outcry (2000), a documentary about the open trading pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and NBC, based in London and Jerusalem.

    Deborah Hoffman, Editor Deborah Hoffman received a National Emmy for editing The Times of Harvey Milk. She edited Marlon Riggs’ Color Adjustment, which received a Peabody, as well as Jon Else’s Mulholland’s Dream and Sing Faster, both of which won Emmys. She also worked on HBO’s Academy Award–winning Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt. As a director, she was honored with an Academy Award nomination, an Emmy, a Peabody and a Columbia-duPont Award for Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, her now-legendary film about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The feature documentary Long Night’s Journey Into Day, directed with Frances Reid, which chronicles South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, won the Sundance Grand Prize for Documentary and received an Academy Award nomination.

    About Independent Lens Independent Lens is an Emmy® Award winning weekly series airing on PBS. The acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about unique individuals, communities and moments in history. Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites and national publicity and community engagement campaigns. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. The series producer is Lois Vossen. Further information about the series is available at pbs.org/independentlens

    CONTACT: Voleine Amilcar, 415-356-8383 x 244, voleine_amilcar@itvs.org Mary Lugo, 770-623-8190, lugo@negia.net Cara White, 843-881-1480, cara.white@mac.com

  • 1/02/07

    Wonders Are Many premieres in the Spectrum category at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival

    Director Jon Else brings unique opera about the birth of weapons of mass destruction and dawn of the nuclear arms race to the big screen

    “What does it take to make something that is regenerative? Because the sheer horror [of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] by itself, art is not up to that. There’s nothing you can put on stage or in a painting that matches the suffering

    CONTACT: Randall Cole, ITVS: 415.356.8383 x254, randall<em>cole@itvs.org Tim Etheridge, ITVS: 415.356.8383 x250, tim</em>etheridge@itvs.org

    AT SUNDANCE: Randall Cole: 415.425.3050 (cell) Tim Etheridge: 415.786.1377 (cell)

    Press release >> Film synopsis >> Production bios >> Key character bios >>

    (San Francisco, CA)- WONDERS ARE MANY: The Making of Doctor Atomic, a new documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Jon Else will have its world premiere as part of the Spectrum series at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

    In 1980 Jon Else, directed The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, winner of the first ever prize for documentary at Sundance. Now, a quarter century later, he has gone behind the scenes of the world-renowned San Francisco Opera to follow composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars for a year as they struggle with the same story, creating the first opera about weapons of mass destruction.

    This extraordinary documentary weaves together the frenetic backstage story of creating an opera while enactments of actual World War II dramatic events unfold on stage. With spectacular recently declassified footage of nuclear testing interwoven with the story of the creation of the atomic bomb as told by the scientists themselves, alongside the breathtaking beauty of John Adams' music and the antics of a 250-person opera company racing toward opening night under Peter Sellars' masterful direction, it all comes together to make a documentary like none other.

    When a group of American scientists set out in secret in 1941 to make an atomic bomb, no one was sure whether it would work; and when John Adams and Peter Sellars set out in 2005 to create an opera about that first nuclear weapon, they had no idea whether their music drama would succeed. This is the story of those two creations 60 years apart.

    “This is pretty much the film I've been preparing to make for the past 25 years. It's about wildly creative people coming together to create wonders—atomic bombs, operas, myths,” said director Jon Else. “This is my fourth film to premiere at Sundance, and I'm curious to see where the festival has come, after all these years of being our funky national block party.”

    WONDERS ARE MANY will screen five times during the 10-day Festival: Screening Times Friday, Jan 19 2:30 PM: Holiday Village Cinema II
    Saturday, Jan 20: 8:30 AM Prospector Square Theatre
    Sunday, Jan 21: 12:30 PM Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, SLC Wednesday, Jan. 24: 1:30 PM Yarrow- PRESS SCREENING Wednesday, Jan 24: 5:30 PM Library Center Theatre

    CREDITS

    WONDERS ARE MANY is a co-production of Jon Else, Actual Films, and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional major funding provided by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, PBS, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation and The Sundance Documentary Fund

    Filmmaker Credits: Director/Producer/writer: Jon Else Producer: Bonni Cohen Editor: Deborah Hoffmann

    ABOUT THE FILMMAKER

    Jon Else's film The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb was described by Tom Shales in the Washington Post as “the best film ever made about living intimately with doom of our own design.” Winner of the first-ever documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1980, it has been broadcast repeatedly in virtually every developed country over the past 20 years. It is used widely in schools, universities, and institutions as varied as the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    In 2000 Else released Sing Faster: The Stagehands Ring Cycle, which won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance, and that year's National Emmy for Best Documentary. This film looks at the grand moral narratives of Richard Wagner's epic “Der Ring Des Niebelungen”, entirely through the eyes of union stagehands at the San Francisco Opera. Else also produced and directed Cadillac Desert (1997), Palace Of Delights: The Exploratorium (1983), Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1989) for the Sundance Institute, A Job at Ford's for Henry Hampton's PBS series The Great Depression (1992) and Open Outcry (2001). He was series producer and cinematographer for Eyes On The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1987), and has photographed hundreds of documentaries for PBS, the BBC, ABC, MTV, and HBO, including the BBC/PBS History Of Rock And Roll (1993), Who Are The DeBolts (Academy Award winner 1976), Paramount/MTV's feature Tupac Resurrection (2003, Academy Award nomination), Barbara Kopple's recent documentary on rapper MC Hammer, and Doug Hamilton's Alice Waters (2003), as well as dozens of music videos and concert films. He has just returned from doing camera work in Afghanistan on a PBS documentary about that country’s new constitution.

    He received his B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and M.A. in Communication from Stanford University, and currently heads the documentary program at Berkeley's Graduate School Of Journalism. He also directs UCB's experimental Center for New Documentary. Else was a MacArthur Fellow from 1988 to 1993, and has won four National Emmys (for writing, producing, directing, and cinematography), several Columbia-DuPonts, Polk Awards, and Peabody Awards as well as several Academy Award nominations, and the Prix Italia.

    ABOUT ACTUAL FILMS

    For over ten years, Actual Films has been producing critically acclaimed, award-winning documentaries for television broadcast and theatrical release. These films have been shot in dozens of countries around the world and range in subject matter from personal stories to historical examinations to international politics. Actual Films has made documentaries for PBS, BBC, Arte, Discovery Channel, Lucasfilm, Stanford University, and many others.

    Actual Films was formed in 1998 by filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, who met while completing their graduate work in film at the Stanford University Documentary Film Program.

    ABOUT ITVS

    The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 PM on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

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    SYNOPSIS and SCREENINGS

    WONDERS ARE MANY U.S.A., 2006, 94 Minutes, color & b/w

    Director/Producer/Writer: Jon Else

    Producer: Bonni Cohen

    Editor: Deborah Hoffman

    WONDERS ARE MANY: The Making of Doctor Atomic

    WONDERS ARE MANY tells the story of making a grand opera about the atomic bomb. This behind-the-scenes documentary follows composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars over the course of a year as they work to forge the tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer into a music drama like no other: the strange and beautiful “Doctor Atomic.” As creation of the opera unfolds, Sellars and Adams struggle to make high art from the most savage weapon in history, the film also explores the unnerving 60 year history of nuclear weapons. The film shows the real events behind the drama on stage, and the unintended consequences of actions (and inactions) of men working on the first nuclear device. Weaving together the intense and sometimes hilarious process of making an opera with striking newly declassified historical film, WONDERS ARE MANY focuses on the 48 hours leading up to the Trinity atomic test in July of 1945.

    The film unfolds in the deserts of Nevada and New Mexico, and on stage at the San Francisco Opera, amid physicists, opera singers, stagehands, soldiers and poets, with Adams and Sellars at the center of the vortex. Implicit throughout the film, against a present day background of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counter-proliferation is the question: “How can art make history relevant to current affairs?” The film makes a powerful assertion that, as the Greeks understood so well, public art is essential to the public good.

    Screening Times Friday , Jan 19: 2:30 PM Holiday Village Cinema II
    Saturday , Jan 20: 8:30 AM Prospector Square Theatre
    Sunday , Jan 21: 12:30 PM Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, SLC Wednesday, Jan. 24: 1:30 PM Yarrow- PRESS SCREENING Wednesday , Jan 24: 5:30 PM Library Center Theatre

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    FILM PRODUCTION BIOS

    JON ELSE (Director/Screenwriter) Jon Else's film The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb was described by Tom Shales in the Washington Post as “the best film ever made about living intimately with doom of our own design.” Winner of the first-ever documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1980, it has been broadcast repeatedly in virtually every developed country over the past 20 years. It is used widely in schools, universities, and institutions as varied as the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    In 2000 Else released Sing Faster: The Stagehands Ring Cycle, which won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance, and that year's National Emmy for Best Documentary. This film looks at the grand moral narratives of Richard Wagner's epic “Der Ring Des Niebelungen”, entirely through the eyes of union stagehands at the San Francisco Opera. Else also produced and directed Cadillac Desert (1997), Palace Of Delights: The Exploratorium (1983), Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1989) for the Sundance Institute, A Job at Ford's for Henry Hampton's PBS series The Great Depression (1992) and Open Outcry (2001). He was series producer and cinematographer for Eyes On The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1987), and has photographed hundreds of documentaries for PBS, the BBC, ABC, MTV, and HBO, including the BBC/PBS History Of Rock And Roll (1993), Who Are The DeBolts (Academy Award winner 1976), Paramount/MTV's feature Tupac Resurrection (2003, Academy Award nomination), Barbara Kopple's recent documentary on rapper MC Hammer, and Doug Hamilton's Alice Waters (2003), as well as dozens of music videos and concert films. He has just returned from doing camera work in Afghanistan on a PBS documentary about that country’s new constitution.

    He received his B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and M.A. in Communication from Stanford University, and currently heads the documentary program at Berkeley's Graduate School Of Journalism. He also directs UCB's experimental Center for New Documentary.

    Else was a MacArthur Fellow from 1988 to 1993, and has won four National Emmys (for writing, producing, directing, and cinematography), several Columbia-DuPonts, Polk Awards, and Peabody Awards as well as several Academy Award nominations, and the Prix Italia.

    BONNI COHEN (Producer) Bonni Cohen founded Actual Films, an independent documentary film company based in San Francisco in 1998. She recently executive produced The Rape of Europa, a two hour historical documentary about the fate of Europe’s art treasures during WWII. Cohen co-produced Democracy Afghan Style (2004, 80 minutes) about Afghanistan’s constitutional process for PBS in the United States and for Arté in France and Germany. In 2003, she produced and directed The New Heroes, a series for PBS, hosted by Robert Redford, about social entrepreneurs around the world. In 2001, Cohen produced and directed The Nobel: Visions of Our Century (2001, 56 minutes), a chronicle of 100 years of the Nobel Prize told from the perspectives of 11 Nobel laureates that was broadcast on PBS. For the BBC she directed and produced Eye of the Storm (1999, 55 minutes), an intimate, verité portrait of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York. Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in over 125 countries. For PBS, she co-produced They Drew Fire (1998, 56 minutes), a portrait of the combat artists of World War II. Her other works include The Human Sexes with Desmond Morris, a six-part, Emmy-nominated series about gender differences around the world and two episodes of the Emmy award-winning Eyewitness series for PBS. She was the producer of Jon Else’s film, Open Outcry (2000, 56 minutes), a documentary about the open trading pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and NBC, based in London and Jerusalem. Ms. Cohen earned a Masters degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University in 1994 and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Tufts University in 1987. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Jon Shenk and their children Abe and Anabel.

    DEBORAH HOFFMAN (Editor) Deborah Hoffmann received a National Emmy for editing The Times of Harvey Milk. She edited Marlon Riggs' Color Adjustment, which received a Peabody, as well as Else's Mulholland’s Dream and Sing Faster, both of which won Emmys. She also worked on HBO's Academy Award- winning Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt. As a director, she has been honored with an Academy Award nomination, Emmy, Peabody and Columbia-duPont Award for her now-legendary film about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter. The feature documentary Long Night's Journey into Day, which she directed with Frances Reid, chronicles South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, won the Sundance Grand Prize for Documentary and received an Academy Award nomination.

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    KEY CHARACTER BIOS: OPERA CREATIVE TEAM

    John Adams is the most frequently performed living American composer. He is best known for his groundbreaking works Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, for which there was no creative precedent in the history of opera. Adams graduated from Harvard in 1971 and taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years. His works, which include Harmonium, Shaker Loops, The Chairman Dances, Grand Pianola Music, and El Nino, are heavily influenced by sources as diverse as jazz, rock and roll, minimalism, and late Romanticism. In the often-opaque world of modern music, Adams’ compositions are uniquely accessible and moving. His Transmigration of Souls, which commemorates lives lost on September 11th, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for music. In April and May of 2003 Lincoln Center presented a festival entitled "John Adams: An American Master", the most extensive festival ever mounted at Lincoln Center devoted to a living composer. Adams is currently writing a book of memoirs and commentary on American musical life due for publication in 2007.

    Peter Sellars has directed hundreds of productions across America and abroad, specializing in 20th Century operas, most notably Saint Francois d’Assise, Mathis der Maler, The Rake's Progress, and Adams' oratorio El Nino. Most recently he set a Rome production of Mozart’s Idomeneo in the war-torn Middle East, and collaborated on The Tristan Project with Esa-Pekka Salonen, video artist Bill Viola, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was featured in Jean-Luc Godard's film King Lear, and has appeared in numerous other films and documentaries as diverse as Bill Moyers' World of Ideas and Miami Vice. He is a MacArthur Fellow, widely known for his strikingly unique and hotly debated opera staging, for his trademark spike hair and bear hugs, and for his fierce defense of the arts as a force in civic dialogue. Sellars is currently the artistic director of the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna (November 14 – December 13, 2006), and has invited contemporary international artists from diverse cultural backgrounds in the fields of music and opera, architecture, the visual arts and film to create new projects as part of the Vienna Mozart Year celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. As a team, the flamboyant Sellars and quietly intense Adams are best known for their acclaimed collaborations on Nixon in China, and The Death of Klinghoffer. Both these productions were dedicated to the proposition that art, history, and politics are inseparable.