Lawrence to host premiere for documentary about ‘The Day After’; 40 years after its release, cast will return to Liberty Hall

photo by: Submitted

Promotional material for the documentary "Television Event" is shown.

Growing up in the 1980s, Freddy Krueger — the nightmare-inducing fellow from Elm Street — was like a warm glass of milk before bed compared with one particular horror film.

I’m talking about “The Day After,” the 1983 television movie that showed the horrors of a nuclear war. The movie was both set and largely filmed in Lawrence, so as a northeast Kansas resident, good luck hiding from that terror. For those of us who lived in the area, the film and all the media attention that surrounded it probably is one of those touchstone moments of the decade.

Lawrence should get ready to get back in touch.

Next month Lawrence will be the site of the premiere for a new documentary that looks back at the history-making movie 40 years after its release. Actor Steve Guttenberg, director Nicholas Meyer and other members of the production team will participate in a “grand premiere” event and panel discussion at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.

The new documentary is titled “Television Event.” It dives into many of the behind-the-scenes stories of the making of “The Day After,” including how the production team was receiving pressure from the White House about scenes and details to omit from the film.

But “Television Event” also aims to shine a light on what is happening now with rising international tensions in the world, the documentary’s director said.

“Once again, we seem to be racing toward nuclear extinction on several fronts — with the U.S. and Russia rehashing the saber-rattling of the 1980s and seven more countries threatening to press the red button,” director Jeff Daniels said via a release. “Yet those under age 50 seem blithely unaware of the danger. My team produced this film in the hopes of waking up the public, so we don’t sleepwalk into the apocalypse.”

photo by: Courtesy: Television Event producers

A screen shot of a nuclear blast from the documentary “Television Event,” which chronicles the making of the movie “The Day After.”

In addition to Guttenberg and Meyer, the panel at Liberty Hall will include a few local residents who were part of the 1983 movie. Ellen Moore, who played Jolene Dahlberg, Jack Wright, who was the local casting director, and David Longhurst, who was Lawrence’s mayor during that time, all will be on the panel.

Producer Bob Papazian and associate producer Stephanie Austin also will be part of the panel, which is being billed as the first time the team who made the film has come together in the last 40 years.

The producers of the documentary are hoping that it will produce a new round of national or international discussion about nuclear war. Daniels, the documentary director, later this month plans to be at the United Nations for the “States Parties Meeting,” which is a gathering of countries that have banned nuclear weapons. The producers plan to offer the new documentary “as an educational tool for activists and delegates to advance their outreach work,” according to the release.

If the documentary has a quarter of the success the movie did, millions of new people are going to become acquainted with Lawrence and its role in television history. When the movie was broadcast on ABC on Nov. 20, 1983, more than 100 million viewers tuned in, making it the highest-rated made-for-TV film in history.

As for your chance to see the Lawrence event, it is open to the public, but will require a ticket. It looks like ticket prices are $12. See online or Liberty Hall for details. In addition to the screening and the panel discussion, KU Libraries and the Watkins Museum of History will display items from their archives related to the filming of “The Day After.”

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World

A scene from the set of “The Day After,” which was filmed in Lawrence in 1983.

photo by: Richard Gwin

A scene from the set of “The Day After,” which was filmed in Lawrence in 1983.

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World

A scene from the set of “The Day After,” which was filmed in Lawrence in 1983.


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