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Staff & contributors

As its title suggests, Steve James’ documentary isn’t shy about its sympathy for its subject. Physicist Ted Hall was just 18 when he was recruited to the Manhattan Project and underwent a crisis of conscience when it became apparent that the atomic bomb’s ostensible target — Nazi Germany — was on the brink of defeat. Concerned by the possibility that, post-WW2, the US would achieve a nuclear monopoly and become a new kind of imperialist power, Ted and friend Saville Sax leaked key information to the USSR.

James’ film takes a decidedly intimate approach: while it dips into archival interviews Ted gave before his death and provides background context via scholars, it’s mostly led by Ted’s wife Joan, a spirited interviewee. Her moving contributions expand the film’s scope, making it as much a portrait of a marriage as a study of the political impact his actions had. James also interviews their children — as well as those of his partner-in-espionage, Saville — to explore the conflicted personal legacy their actions left. In not limiting itself to a macro perspective, the film opens itself up to be more than a look in history’s dusty rear-view mirror, making it a welcome tonic to the Wikipedia-style approach commonly employed for subjects like this.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Ann Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Joseph Stalin, Mickey O'Sullivan, Theodore Hall, Walter Huston

Director: Steve James

This documentary is about a unique program in Chicago called CeaseFire whose sole aim is to stop violent deaths in poor urban areas. CeaseFire is staffed by ex-gang members and ex-convicts who try to intervene in conflicts in their community, particularly those that may escalate into extreme violence or death. In these neighborhoods though, violent conflict can result from something as minor as someone making a funky comment about someone else’s shoes. This makes total success for a project like CeaseFire nearly impossible. It is not a totally depressing film though as the program and its practitioners are all pretty amazing, and director Steve James (who made Hoop Dreams) has unparalleled access to these struggling communities.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amanda Palmer, Ameena Matthews, Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Steve James, Tio Hardiman

Director: Steve James

Rating: Unrated