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Lights! Camera! Hazmat Suit! Filming Inside Chornobyl's Exclusion Zone

Actress Olga Kurylenko (left) and director Michale Boganim
Actress Olga Kurylenko (left) and director Michale Boganim
French-Israeli director Michale Boganim is hoping her latest film, "Land of Oblivion," finds a warmer reception in France, where it's just opened, than the "torrent of hatred" she says it received when it was screened in Ukraine last year.

Why the backlash?

On a grand scale, "Land of Oblivion," which stars former Bond girl and Ukraine native Olga Kurylenko (she was born in Berdyansk), is about the Chornobyl nuclear disaster of April 26, 1986.

On a smaller scale, it tells the story of a newly married couple in which the happy husband is called away on their wedding day to help put out a fire at the nearby nuclear power plant.

It's a story that Boganim says displeased the authorities in Kyiv because it shows in stark terms the human cost of the disaster and doesn't paint the authorities' response to the crisis in a favorable light.

As she told the French news agency AFP:
"The most traumatic part -- more than the disaster -- was the evacation. Being forced to up and leave without the slightest explanation. They sent in troops and tanks to deal with the radioactivity and left people in complete ignorance."

"Land of Oblivion" may also be the first full-length feature film to be shot entirely within the 30-kilometer Chornobyl exclusion zone. Surprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency gives a tentative thumbs-up to the concept:
Although some of the radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere still linger (such as Strontium-90 and Caesium-137), they are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time...Exposure to low but unusual levels of radiation over a period of time is less dangerous than exposure to a huge amount at once, and studies have been unable to link any direct increase in cancer risks to chronic low-level exposure.

Safe for limited periods of time, perhaps. But we're guessing Boganim probably kept the number of takes to a minimum.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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