New B.C. film revists a Cold War setting while dreaming of a future 'with no hate in our heart'

·2 min read
The Cold War Bunker in the West Kootenay city of Nelson, B.C., built in the early '60s as a shelter from potential Soviet nuclear attack, opened to the public as a permanent exhibit of the Touchstones Museum of Art and History in 2020.  (Touchstones Museum of Art and History - image credit)
The Cold War Bunker in the West Kootenay city of Nelson, B.C., built in the early '60s as a shelter from potential Soviet nuclear attack, opened to the public as a permanent exhibit of the Touchstones Museum of Art and History in 2020. (Touchstones Museum of Art and History - image credit)

A bit of Cold War history is the backdrop for a new short film that re-imagines what kind of people would be allowed to use a nuclear fallout bunker if it was needed today.

Kootenay poet Zaynab Mohammed and other local artists in Nelson, B.C., ventured underground to a bunker built beneath the Canada Post Office downtown in the 1960s to protect up to 70 government officials in the even of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

Back then, most high-ranking bureaucrats were white middle-aged men so that's who would have been allowed into the sanctuary stocked with food and bunk beds.

That inspired Mohammed to create the film envisioning people of different ages, genders and cultural backgrounds inside the shelter.

On Wednesday, Nelson's Touchstones Museum of Art and History — which opened the bunker as a permanent public exhibit in 2020 after offering private tours since 2013 — released Beneath the Surface, the 12-minute movie Mohammed narrates in poetry.

WATCH | Beneath the Surface film imagines a diverse Cold War bunker

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"So look up. See what is around. Above and beyond there is a world where we can all exist," she says in the film. "Where we can think different thoughts with no hate in our heart. Where we look out for each other ... a world where the pyramid of control gets flipped upside down. A world where we are the leaders of our humanity."

Mohammed — whose family is originally from the Middle East — lived in Beirut, Lebanon, during her high school years. She says she's intrigued that a Canadian wartime shelter was only available for a certain group of people.

"The shelters there [in Beirut] are for everyone because everyone is important to survive and to make it through these times of crisis," she said to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "It's interesting that only 70 people in the community would have been carried through."

Mohammed says the poem is "a piece [about] what's possible and shifting perceptions, and [about] taking the old and … using it to move forward in a beautiful way and not repeating history."

Artist Zaynab Mohammed performs in Beneath the Surface, filmed in the underground bunker.
Artist Zaynab Mohammed performs in Beneath the Surface, filmed in the underground bunker. (Beneath the Surface/Vimeo)

Now, after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more necessary than ever to stand together, she says.

"We need each other to carry us forward. The more separated we are, the harder it's going to be to not repeat history."

Mohammed says she hopes the film would allow the viewers to dream of a future that they've never envisioned.

"To believe in what isn't and what has never been. There must be constellations full of stories, like songs, maps of perception. Wormholes to our freedom," her poem says.

Tap the link below to hear Zaynab Mohammed's interview on Daybreak South: