SOMBA KE: THE MONEY PLACE
"... takes us on a journey to a place in the Arctic caught between the potential of the future - and the lessons of the past..." ...
David Henningson – Director/Producer/Writer/Cameraman
Since graduating from NYU’s film program in 1997, David has been based out of Tokyo as a freelance Producer/Cameraman/Editor specializing in Asian regional stories.
Don Dixon – Associate Producer
For over 26 years, Don has run Dixon Films in Toronto.
Petr Cizek – Writer, Researcher and Landscape Animator
For over a decade, Petr Cizek lived and worked in the Northwest Territories as an independent environmental consultant, cartographer, and animator.
Linda Henningson –Researcher/Writer/Prod Co-ordinator
Linda is a visual artist and graphic designer, and is a graduate of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver. She is represented by Jeffrey Boone Gallery.
Joe Hiscott – Editor, Filmmaker and editor based in Montreal.
Andrew Coutts - Editor, working in TV and Film for over 8 years.
Anthony Vanderburgh – Music Composer, award winning composer based in Toronto..
Orie Yoshida - Production Assistance/Translator, PR for Grey Advertising (Tokyo)
With dire warnings about the world’s dwindling oil supplies and concerns over global warming, a controversial energy source is increasingly being embraced – nuclear power, the same technology that powered atomic weapons like those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Few know it, but the Canadian Government during the 1940s operated in the Arctic the world’s first uranium mine in order to secretly supply the United States’ Manhattan Project with the uranium used in the making of those bombs.
Today, this same mine, known to the local Sahtu Dene First Nations as Somba Ke – “the money place” is at the epicenter of a massive uranium exploration boom.
For the local Dene First Nations, it means economic opportunity – and painful memories.
Travelling to the Arctic, New Mexico, Shanghai, Hiroshima and New York City, this controversial documentary uncovers the multi-million dollar investigation into the affects on those who were witnesses to the very dawn of the atomic age - and those effects which continue to reverberate throughout the Arctic amidst today’s nuclear renaissance.
For further information on Somba Ke: The Money Place, DVD sales or distribution outside of Canada, please contact David Henningson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Often the story of the making of a documentary is as entertaining and thought provoking as the documentary itself.
Somba Ke: The Money Place is no exception - the year and a half it took to make was filled full of unexpected twists and turns.
We had initially set out to film the story set around the 60th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 2005. It was to be the story of those whose lives were touched by being witnesses to the very dawn of the atomic age.
In 1998, a group of Dene Elders traveled to Hiroshima for the atomic bomb commemorations in order to apologize for their involvement in the making of the atomic bomb. The documentary “Village of Widows”, directed by Peter Blow was made about this trip and the plight of the Dene as they pressed the Canadian Government for investigatation into possible contamination at the site and to perform an inquiry into what the Dene thought were the wrongful death of many of their Elders.
I wanted to update the story. What had happened to the Dene and their cause? Did the Canadian government investigate the contamination, and if so, what were the results?
I had planned to bring a group of Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) to Deline as part of the 60th anniversary commemorations
What was initially a story about reconciliation, of connection after disaster, of victims coming together soon turned into something I had completely unexpected.
In the fall of 2004, my sister Linda sent me the play, “Burning Vision”, written by Galiano Island based Metis playwright Marie Clements. In 2004, she won the Canada-Japan literary award for this play and was nominated in 2005 for the Siminovitch Prize in Canadian theatre.
The play is based on a prophecy that a Dene medicine man had years before WWII, the Manhattan Project and the atomic age.
While camping on an outcrop of rock near Port Radium, NWT, the medicine man had a vision of strange people going into a hole in the ground and making a long stick with the rocks that they brought out. The long stick was loaded onto a gigantic bird and this bird flew far away. The stick was dropped on people who looked like the Dene – these people all burned and many died. “This will happen a long time in the future”, he said, “after we are all dead”.
The enigmatic Dene legend foreshadowed events leading up to one of the 20th Centuries most defining moments - the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The history of Port Radium depicted in “Burning Vision” was one not well-known in Canada and not taught in Canadian schools. I was intrigued by this hidden part of Canadian history.
In Tokyo, I contacted Thane Camus, French philosopher Albert Camus’s grandson.
Thane, who grew up in Japan, is a very popular Japanese television celebrity. He agreed to join the documentary in an on-camera narration role, and in May, 2005, Thane and a film crew flew to Deline, NWT to start preliminary filming.
During this time, we invited two members from Deline to come to Hiroshima as part of the documentary for the 60th anniversary commemorations of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It seemed to me that the Dene were interested in getting their story out and that they were frustrated with how little had been done.
However, the Japanese TV broadcasters that we pitched the project to were not as enthusiastic about the documentary - they were looking for programs in the lead up to the 60th anniversary commemorations of the atomic bomb and we wouldn't be able to deliver until well after August 6th.
With the project stalled, Japan based Global producer Rob Smaal recommended that I contact a producer at Global National TV, Jason Keel regarding the upcoming Global Currents documentary series submissions. I pitched a story to Global based around the 60th anniversary commemorations – having several Dene and Marie Clements go to Hiroshima in an exchange that would see several Hibakusha (Japanese atomic bomb survivors) returning to Deline.
Fortunately, the story was accepted. But the celebrations were short lived.
The two Dene we had invited declined our invitation to travel to Hiroshima to attend the 60th anniversary commemorations of the atomic bomb dropping - one of them a month before, the other the day before flying out of Deline to Tokyo.
We were able to find substitutions, but the atmosphere in Deline had changed. No longer were people willing to be interviewed and it suddenly seemed that no one wanted to share the story of what had happened at Port Radium.
We then flew to Tokyo with playwright Marie Clements for a two day stopover before continuing on the Hiroshima. The morning after arriving in Tokyo, the two Dene declined to be filmed as part of the documentary.
In shock, the crew continued on to Hiroshima with Marie Clements to film her performing readings of her play.
But with Deline refusing to participate in the documentary, I soon realized that we had no story.
Refusing to call it quits, my sister and I drove from Vancouver to Yellowknife. We camped out, cooked beans on the fire – anything to save money so that we could continue with the documentary and search for what was happening at Port Radium.
In Yellowknife, we discovered that there was a full blown uranium exploration rush going on in the area surrounding Port Radium. We met Petr Cizek, whose knowledge of the NWT and the issues surrounding first nations land use planning proved indispensable.
And after many years and millions of dollars, the Canadian government finally released their final report on Port Radium while we were in Yellowknife.
This is a documentary that constantly surprised me.
Yes, it was a surprise that the Canadian Government was operating a uranium mine in the 1940s to secretly supply the Manhattan Project. And that this history is so little known still within Canada, and seldom heard of in the rest of the world.
It surprised me that both the Dene and European immigrant workers who worked at the mine have never received compensation. In contrast, the U.S. government has compensated its miners and ore transporters to the tune of $290 million. So it was a surprise that the U.S. government actually comes out of this looking pretty good (for a change!)
It surprised me that Ottawa’s recently opened War Museum, devoted to the lives of ordinary Canadians and the sacrifices they made during wars throughout Canadian history, has no mention of Port Radium.
It surprised me that the Navajo have banned uranium mining on their land, but the Dene in northern Canada have continued to endorse it.
It surprised me that several Dene who were brought to Japan as part of the documentary declined to be filmed once they arrived in Japan.
It surprised me that best selling author Douglas Coupland is supporting and making money off of uranium mining.
Really surprising is the extent to which the Port Radium area is littered with old abandoned mines – railway tracks cutting into holes in mountain sides, abandoned shafts, old mining equipment littering the area. The possibility of contamination is not confined to just the Port Radium mine site itself.
It surprised me that the Canadian governments final report findings were accepted which such little objection.
Somba Ke: The Money Place is a 45 minute documentary that was first broadcast on November 4th 2006 on Global National TV in Canada - an encore presentation was broadcast on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @ 10:00p.m.
Robert Redford's Sundance Channel in the U.S.A has acquired Somba Ke for its environmental series called "Green".
The Winnipeg Film Festival will be presenting Somba Ke on July 7th 2007 @ 6:30p.m.
A 54 minute version has now been completed and is currently hitting the film festival circuit. This version is also available on DVD - please email email@example.com for ordering information.
Click here for additional interviews not included in the documentary
Click here for statistics on Port Radium and the Canadian Government's final report
Click here to see a graphical timeline of significant events in the history of Port Radium
Click here to see a Google Earth map of Port Radium area
Click here for clips for historical footage