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“American Experience: Command and Control” Screenings

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Investigate the high-stakes story of the Damascus, Arkansas, nuclear accident in 1980 with special screenings of upcoming “American Experience” documentary “Command and Control.” A cautionary tale of freak accidents, near misses, human fallibility and extraordinary heroism, the film exposes the terrifying truth about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal and shows what can happen when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us.


The film recounts, in chilling, minute-by-minute detail, the story of a deadly 1980 accident at a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas, and will be screened in three locations in Arkansas prior to a brief run in theaters this fall and premiere on AETN in early 2017.

Screenings will be held in Hot Springs as part of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival opening night on Friday, Oct. 7*; at South Side Bee Branch Fine Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m.; and in Little Rock’s Ron Robinson Theater in partnership with The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service on Sunday, Oct. 9, at 5 p.m.


Through the first-person accounts of Air Force personnel, weapon designers and first responders who were on the scene, “Command and Control” reveals the unlikely chain of events that caused the accident and the feverish efforts to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States – 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.


What caused the nuclear disaster that could have obliterated large sections of Central Arkansas? On the evening of Sept. 18, 1980, Airmen David F. Powell and Jeffrey L. Plumb were performing routine maintenance at the Titan II silo in Damascus, Arkansas. At the age of 21, Powell was considered a highly experienced missile technician; Plumb, who had just turned 19, was still in training. As the two stood on a platform near the top of the Titan II, a socket fell from Powell’s wrench, plummeted 70 feet and, shockingly, punctured the missile. A stream of highly explosive rocket fuel began pouring into the silo.

Nothing like this had ever happened to a Titan II before, and the Air Force had no procedures in place to deal with the event. For the next eight hours, the leadership of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) frantically struggled to figure out how to prevent a massive explosion and retain control of the thermonuclear warhead – a weapon so powerful that it could destroy much of Arkansas and deposit lethal radioactive fallout across the East Coast.

Woven through the Damascus story is a riveting history of America’s nuclear weapons program, from World War II through the Cold War, much of it based on recently declassified documents. A cautionary tale filmed in an abandoned Titan II missile silo in Arizona, “Command and Control” forces viewers to confront the great dilemma that the U.S. has faced since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do we manage weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them?


“Command and Control” Screenings

Friday, Oct. 7, 2016

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Opening Night Film
Ticket Required

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016

South Side Bee Branch Fine Arts Center, 6 p.m.
334 South Side Rd., Bee Branch
Free and open to the public

Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016

In partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service

Ron Robinson Theater, 5 p.m.
100 River Market Ave., Little Rock
Free and open to the public
RSVP required: please contact The Clinton School of Public Service at or (501) 683-5239.


“Command and Control.”
premiering on AETN in early 2017

“Barnes and … A Conversation With Eric Schlosser”

*Tickets are required for entrance to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival screening. All other screenings are free and open to the public.