Bound by the Wind

The Impact of Nuclear Weapons Testing

Bound by the Wind
Noble Laureate Linus Pauling, David L. Brown

BOUND BY THE WIND is an 88-minute video documentary (1992) (also 40- and 58-min. versions) on the global human impact of nuclear weapons testing and the forty-year international campaign to achieve a comprehensive test ban. Produced and directed by David L. Brown, the documentary focuses on the plight of the world’s “downwinders,” those who have been directly affected by radiation from nuclear weapons testing throughout the planet. The film documents the transformation of several “downwinders” into leading activists in the global movement to stop nuclear testing. It also captures the thoughts and activism of distinguished scientists like Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Laureate, and Glenn Seaborg, former Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission.

BOUND BY THE WIND is a portrait of the enormous human costs of the Cold War nuclear arms race as well as the secrecy, negligence and deceit which characterized the superpowers’ nuclear testing programs. The documentary is structured around the dramatic stories of several downwinders from the United States, the former Soviet Union and the South Pacific who have become committed activists in the global movement to achieve a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. The film interweaves the downwinders’ stories of fallout, deception, birth defects and cancer with the relevant historical events, archival footage and analysis from activists, experts and government officials. It also documents some of the major legal fights for justice and compensation over the health damage caused by nuclear testing.

In addition to the survivors of testing turned activists, interviewees include:
Bound by the Wind
Anti-nuclear demonstration in Kazakhstan Photo: James Lerager
  • Paul Warnke, former chief U.S. arms control negotiator;
  • Mary Elizabeth Hoinkes of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency;
  • Nick Aquilina, Manager of the Nevada Test Site;
  • Patricia Schroeder, Member of Congress;
  • Olzhas Suleimenov, the poet-leader of the anti-nuclear testing movement in the former Soviet Union; and
  • the heads of the French and formerly Soviet nuclear test sites.

The stories of the downwinders and other testing victims are poignant and yet hopeful because of the global democratic movement they have joined and come to symbolize. The stories intersect at several historic events portrayed in the film: the phenomenal and meteoric rise of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement in the Soviet Union in 1989, which succeeded in shutting down the principal Soviet test site; the first International Citizens’ Congress for a Nuclear Test Ban in Kazakhstan, USSR where several of the film’s downwinders met each other and formed an instant and remarkable bond; and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Conference at the United Nations in January of 1991 where the United States and Great Britain were out-voted 74 to 2 over the question of continuing the pursuit of a comprehensive test ban.

The Utah downwinder/activists profiled include:
Bound by the Wind
Anti-nuclear demonstration in Kazakhstan Photo: Yuri Kuide
  • acclaimed Salt Lake City naturalist and author, Terry Tempest Williams, who lost over a dozen women in her family to cancer;
  • Claudia Peterson, a St. George woman who lost a child to leukemia and became a committed life-long antinuclear activist;
  • Janet Gordon, who lost her brother to cancer and founded “Citizen Call” and the National Association of Radiation Victims; and
  • Raymond Yowell, Chief of the Western Shoshone Nation, whose land was taken for the Nevada Test Site.

The South Pacific island downwinder/activists include Jeton Anjain, Senator from the Marshall Islands who died of brain cancer shortly after the film was completed. The Kazakh downwinder/activists include Zhemis Tuyakbaev and Talgat Slyambekov who stated: “For forty years, the Soviet military-industrial complex has waged undelared nuclear war against us. It was an open genocide. No one told us there was any danger. We’ve been silent too long. ”

The documentary captures the momentum generated in the early 1990s to achieve a comprehensive test ban as well as the health and environmental legacy of nuclear testing in the U.S. , the former USSR and the Marshall Islands. It also explores the link to nuclear weapons proliferation, one of the most timely and urgent aspects of the nuclear testing debate.

Nuclear Weapons Testing "Baneberry" venting of an underground nuclear test, Nevada Test Site
“Baneberry” venting of an underground nuclear test, Nevada Test Site

The urgency of nuclear weapons proliferation was underscored in the thirteen years since this documentary was completed, with Pakistan, India and North Korea joining the nuclear club and the threat of possible nuclear weapons in Iraq being used as one justification for a preemptive war. BOUND BY THE WIND is relevant today in providing models of transformative activism and historical context for antinuclear as well as peace and justice organizing.

Through the compelling voices of the victims of the nuclear age empowered by activism, BOUND BY THE WIND sounds a warning on the risks of continuing nuclear contamination. It is also an impassioned call to action–a call to continue the struggle to stem nuclear weapons proliferation and to bring an end to nuclear testing for all time.

Bound by the Wind David L. Brown shooting in Kazakhstan picture
David L. Brown shooting in Kazakhstan picture

David L. Brown was born in Denver, Colorado, downwind from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant which has released significant radiation and over 25 pounds of deadly plutotium into the environment. His father is an atomic veteran who was exposed to atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada.

BOUND BY THE WIND was the principal media organizing tool for the comprehensive test ban movement for several years beginning with the completion of the 40-minute version in 1991. The 58-minute version aired on PBS from 1992 to 1995 and the 88-minute version aired in France, the Netherlands and Spain. The 40-minute version of BOUND BY THE WIND has received 18 international awards including a CINE Golden Eagle, a Blue Ribbon at the American Film and Video Festival, a Golden Gate Award for Best Environmental Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a Gold Apple Award at the National Educational Film and Video Festival, a Gold Award at the Houston International Film Festival and a Gold Award for Best Documentary at the Philadelphia International Film Festival.


Produced, directed and edited by David L. Brown
Written by David L. Brown and Stephen Most
Music by Mark Adler
Consulting Producer: James Culp
Camera: David L. Brown, David Drewry, Jerry Jones, Steve Sones, Tim Metzger
Sound: Steve Baigel, Jane Kinzler,
Eric Ladenburg, David Kagen
On-line editor: Eric Ladenburg

Selected Comments on BOUND BY THE WIND

“BOUND BY THE WIND is far and away the best film on the nuclear legacy.  The use of historical clips and survivor interviews is nothing short of brilliant. David L. Brown has a journalist’s clear mind, an artist’s feel, and an historian’s sense of the significance of events.”
– Stan Grossfeld, The Boston Globe

“Powerful and moving; BOUND BY THE WIND explores with visceral force the deleterious effects of nuclear weapons testing on the health of citizens of the United States, the Marshall Islands and the former Soviet Union.The film’s production values are high, with effective use of archival footage, interviews and music; the editing is tight and Dave McQueen’s narration is dramatic.” -–
— David Armstrong, San Francisco Examiner

“BOUND BY THE WIND is much more than an excellent documentary on nuclear testing.  It is a spirited manifesto delivered by citizens around the world who are standing their ground in the places they love, peacefully and forcefully, to bring an end to nuclear testing for all time.”
— Terry Tempest Williams, Salt Lake City naturalist, author of Refuge.

“It was my pleasure to play a part in BOUND BY THE WIND, David L. Brown’s first-rate documentary on the global impact of nuclear testing.  I look forward to participating in the film’s Washington, D.C. premiere.  This documentary is certain to play an important role in inspiring and informing public debate.”
— Paul Warnke,Former Chief U.S. Arms Control Negotiator, 1977-80


More Antinuclear films by David L.Brown:A Question of Power, Antinuclear Movement | Free Zone