2023 | Documentary | 4 x 45‘

utopia in flames


The Chernobyl disaster on 26 April 1986 is considered the worst nuclear accident in mankind’s history – both in terms of casualties and costs. It has impacted the world forever. Many have seen the fictional account. But the true story is even more complex, more human and more shocking than we could ever have imagined.

It starts in 1970 in an area of forest and marshland in Northern Ukraine, very close to a little village that the Ukrainian locals call Chornobyl, in Russian: Chernobyl. There a utopia was made real: the largest nuclear power plant in the world alongside a model town of Soviet communism, Prypjat – they were the embodiment of the achievements of the New Human.

The people who moved to Pripyat were chosen for their skills, their determination, and their willingness to believe in the future. They would all start as construction workers, and later become shop keepers, nurses, policemen, plumbers – everything needed to keep their city going. They lived a dream that most of us today can hardly fathom. But this dream was torn asunder on April 26, 1986 – and today, it is only this ending that most people know about Chernobyl and Pripyat. Now, we uncover the whole, true story through:

  • new footage from the nuclear exclusion zone as well as a collection of largely unpublished archive material from the Soviet era,
  • elaborately animating key technical concepts,
  • revealing personal stories of witnesses who lived in that utopia and survived the disaster.

With our contemporary witnesses, we immerse ourselves in the Atomic Age of the Soviet Empire, which is initially shaped by a belief in technology and progress but is soon being pushed through with lies, secrecy and manipulation.

These witnesses include:

  • nuclear engineer Nikolai Steinberg, who was involved in the construction of Chernobyl and devoted his later life to searching for the real reasons for the disaster;
  • Maria Protsenko, the chief architect of the nuclear city, Prypjat;
  • Oleksiy Breus and Boris Stolyarchuk, who were young workers in the power plant at the time and who survived the reactor meltdown.

The narrative weaves together their stories into one gripping story arc. Statements from international experts along with detailed animation provide insightful facts and figures that help grasp the scope of the events: starting with the construction of the nuclear power plant in the early 1970s through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 up to the harbingers of the current Ukrainian/Russian tragedy.

Bettina Offermann | distribution@looks.film

Executive Producer
Regina Bouchehri (LOOKSfilm)
Gunnar Dedio (LOOKSfilm)
Roman Martynenko (MMD PRO)

A co-production by

Writer & Director
Dirk Schneider
Ariane Riecker

Creative Producer
Andreas Fauser

Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung
German Motion Picture Fund