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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Teens' A-bomb film draws big response

International exposure, awards for 'Genie in a Bottle Unleashed'


Staff writer

Like any 14-year-old, Stephen Sotor is a big fan of video games and carries his PlayStation Portable everywhere he goes.

News photo
Stephen Sotor, a 14-year-old American who filmed a documentary on the atomic bombs, relaxes at his hotel room during a recent interview. JUN HONGO PHOTO

But this summer the American teen is finding it difficult to find the time to play as he's too occupied with another of his hobbies -- directing movies.

Sotor, invited to Japan by the nongovernmental organization Peace Boat for a week from July 14, directed the documentary "Genie in a Bottle Unleashed" together with classmate Trace Gaynor in summer 2004.

The 16-minute movie tells the story of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, as well as the Manhattan Project that created the weapon.

"At first, we were thinking of making a movie about the presidential election (of 2004), but we had to do that as a school project," Sotor, from Illinois, said of his choice of topic.

"We chose (the story of the atomic bomb) because it helps the world see what happened," he said. "We have to remember what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how terrible it was."

The film follows the two directors' endeavor to understand the impact and the significance of the atomic bombs through interviews with surviving Manhattan Project scientists and the mayor of Hiroshima.

The two also show their comedic side in the film, dressing up Sotor's cousin, Christopher Beckers, as the Genie that was unleashed when the bombs were dropped.

Gaynor handled the interviews and produced the background music, while Sotor worked with his digital camera and personal computer to edit the footage.

"We only had to pay for the tapes," Sotor said of the budget.

However, the two did have disagreements along the way.

"Trace didn't think that an interview with the Genie would be good," Sotor said. "He thought it would be difficult for people to understand."

The film required more than a year of hard work, from the planning stages to the final editing sessions -- but the reaction was massive.

After receiving a standing ovation following its screening during a nuclear weapons conference at the United Nations in May 2005, "Genie in a Bottle Unleashed" was chosen as the Best Child Produced Short Award at the 2005 Chicago International Children's Film Festival and the Best Documentary Short Award at the 2005 International Family Film Festival.

It was screened at the Tokyo Peace Film Festival last Saturday.

With all the praise the project has won, Sotor now often finds himself being the interviewee instead of working behind the camera.

"The attention from the media is crazy," he said of the more than 20 interviews he had to give during his weeklong visit to Japan. "It's fun, but with the same questions all the time, it gets tough."

Despite the busy itinerary, he managed to squeeze in interviews with bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"I talked with a hibakusha, and half of his face was scarred and burned," Sotor said. "Once I go back home, I'll show the footage to Trace and do some brainstorming for the next project."

With a new 16-minute documentary about space-based weapons already completed and another movie about the atomic bomb following, Sotor already has his hands full.

But he remains ambitious about his career as a director, revealing a desire to make a full-length movie.

"I was thinking of a story, which tells what would happen if nuclear bombs were dropped today," Sotor said.

"Instead of being separated as countries, we should unite," the young director said, speaking his thoughts about peace. "I hope its possible. We're all in it together. We don't need war."

And as for any advice to the Japanese government, "just keep on saying 'we don't have any nuclear weapons and we're doing fine,' " he said.



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