Filmmaker James Jones had no idea when he started it two years ago that a terrible synchronicity would make his blistering documentary about the nuclear accident in northern Ukraine a must-watch

Had it been released at any point in the past few years, Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes would have been an important documentary; a feature-length blend of audio interviews and largely unseen archive footage that puts the 1986 disaster into horrifying new perspective. That it comes out now – just days after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including an attack on the Chernobyl site itself – makes it as unmissable as it is harrowing.

Obviously, this timeliness was never the intention. Indeed, the film-maker James Jones had a different historical event in mind when he started work on it two years ago. “I initially thought the relevance was Covid,” he says. Like Chernobyl, the early days of the pandemic were marked with mysterious illnesses that the local government attempted to keep a lid on. “I was interested in the idea that this invisible enemy was threatening us,” he says. “An authoritarian regime was lying about it, and Chinese citizens were starting to voice their disquiet publicly.”

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