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“Art and science form a combustible fusion in Jon Else's elegant and wide-ranging Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic. A dazzling case of the right filmmaker attached to the right subjects”


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“Tightly layered with uncanny insights and profound illuminations, Wonders is a masterful distillation of explosive elements: science, art, psychology and humanity.”

—The Hollywood Reporter

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Wonders Are Many

tells the story of making a grand opera about the atomic bomb. This behind-the-scenes documentary follows composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars over the course of a year as they work to forge the tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer into a music drama like no other: the strange and beautiful “Doctor Atomic.” As creation of the opera unfolds, as Sellars and Adams struggle to make high art from the most savage weapon in history, the film also explores the unnerving 60 year history of nuclear weapons. It shows the real events behind the drama on stage, and the unintended consequences of actions (and inactions) of men working on the first nuclear device. Weaving together the intense and sometimes hilarious process of making an opera with striking newly declassified historical film, Wonders Are Many focuses on the 48 hours leading up to the Trinity atomic test in July of 1945.

The film unfolds in the deserts of Nevada and New Mexico, and on stage at the San Francisco Opera, amid physicists, opera singers, stagehands, soldiers and poets, with Adams and Sellars at the center of the vortex.

Implicit throughout the film, against a present day background of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and counter-proliferation is the question: “How can art make history relevant to current affairs?” The film makes a powerful assertion that, as the Greeks understood so well, public art is essential to the public good.

Doctor Atomic
Baritone Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer with the Bomb on stage at the San Francisco Opera

Jon Else

Jon Else’s

film The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb was described by Tom Shales in the Washington Post as “the best film ever made about living intimately with doom of our own design.” Winner of the first-ever documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1980, it has been broadcast repeatedly in virtually every developed country over the past 20 years. It is used widely in schools, universities, and institutions as varied as the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In 2000 Else released Sing Faster: The Stagehands Ring Cycle, which won the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance, and that year’s National Emmy for Best Documentary. This film looks at the grand moral narratives of Richard Wagner's epic Der Ring Des Niebelungen, entirely through the eyes of union stagehands at the San Francisco Opera. Else also produced and directed Cadillac Desert (1997), Palace Of Delights: The Exploratorium (1983), Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1989) for the Sundance Institute, A Job at Ford's for Henry Hampton's PBS series The Great Depression (1992) and Open Outcry (2001). He was series producer and cinematographer for Eyes On The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1987), and has photographed hundreds of documentaries for PBS, the BBC, ABC, MTV, and HBO, including the BBC/PBS History Of Rock And Roll (1993), Who Are The DeBolts (Academy Award winner 1976), Paramount/MTV's feature Tupac Resurrection (2003, Academy Award nomination), Barbara Kopple's recent documentary on rapper MC Hammer, and Doug Hamilton's Alice Waters (2003), as well as dozens of music videos and concert films. He has just returned from doing camera work in Afghanistan on a PBS documentary about that country’s new constitution.

He received his B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and M.A. in Communication from Stanford University, and currently heads the documentary program at Berkeley's Graduate School Of Journalism. He also directs UCB's experimental Center for New Documentary. Else was a MacArthur Fellow from 1988 to 1993, and has won four National Emmys (for writing, producing, directing, and cinematography), several Columbia-DuPonts, Polk Awards, and Peabody Awards as well as several Academy Award nominations, and the Prix Italia.


Bonni Cohen

Bonni Cohen

founded Actual Films, an independent documentary film company based in San Francisco in 1998. She recently co-directed and produced The Rape of Europa, a two hour historical documentary about the fate of Europe’s art treasures during WWII. Cohen co-produced Democracy Afghan Style (2004, 80 minutes) about Afghanistan’s constitutional process for PBS in the United States and for Arté in France and Germany. In 2003, she produced and directed The New Heroes, a series for PBS, hosted by Robert Redford, about social entrepreneurs around the world. In 2001, Cohen produced and directed The Nobel: Visions of Our Century (2001, 56 minutes), a chronicle of 100 years of the Nobel Prize told from the perspectives of 11 Nobel laureates that was broadcast on PBS. For the BBC she directed and produced Eye of the Storm (1999, 55 minutes), an intimate, verité portrait of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York. Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in over 125 countries.

For PBS, she co-produced They Drew Fire (1998, 56 minutes), a portrait of the combat artists of World War II. Her other works include The Human Sexes with Desmond Morris, a six-part, Emmy-nominated series about gender differences around the world and two episodes of the Emmy award-winning Eyewitness series for PBS. She was the producer of Jon Else’s film, Open Outcry (2000, 56 minutes), a documentary about the open trading pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and NBC, based in London and Jerusalem. Ms. Cohen earned a Masters degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University in 1994 and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Tufts University in 1987. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Jon Shenk and their children Abe and Anabel.


Deborah Hoffmann

Deborah Hoffmann

(editor) received a National Emmy for editing The Times of Harvey Milk. She edited Marlon Riggs’ Color Adjustment, which received a Peabody, as well as Else’s Mulholland’s Dream and Sing Faster, both of which won Emmys. She also worked on HBO’s Academy Award winning Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt. As a director, she has been honored with an Academy Award nomination, Emmy, Peabody and Columbia-duPont Award for her now-legendary film about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter. The feature documentary Long Night’s Journey into Day, which she directed with Frances Reid, chronicles South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, won the Sundance Grand Prize for Documentary and received an Academy Award nomination.

Nevada bunker
A bank vault at Nevada test site used to test whether stocks, bonds, and insurance policies could survive the war

John Adams

John Adams

is the most frequently performed living American composer. He is best known for his groundbreaking works Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, for which there was no creative precedent in the history of opera. Adams graduated from Harvard in 1971 and taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years. His works, which include Harmonium, Shaker Loops, The Chairman Dances, Grand Pianola Music, and El Nino, are heavily influenced by sources as diverse as jazz, rock and roll, minimalism, and late Romanticism. In the often-opaque world of modern music, Adams’ compositions are uniquely accessible and moving. His Transmigration of Souls, which commemorates lives lost on September 11th, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for music. In April and May of 2003 Lincoln Center presented a festival entitled “John Adams: An American Master”, the most extensive festival ever mounted at Lincoln Center devoted to a living composer. Adams is currently writing a book of memoirs and commentary on American musical life due for publication in 2007.

Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars

has directed hundreds of productions across America and abroad, specializing in 20th Century operas, most notably Saint Francois d’Assise, Mathis der Maler, The Rake’s Progress, and Adams' oratorio El Nino. Most recently he set a Rome production of Mozart’s Idomeneo in the war-torn Middle East, and collaborated on The Tristan Project with Esa-Pekka Salonen, video artist Bill Viola, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was featured in Jean-Luc Godard’s film King Lear, and has appeared in numerous other films and documentaries as diverse as Bill Moyers’ World of Ideas and Miami Vice. He is a MacArthur Fellow, widely known for his strikingly unique and hotly debated opera staging, for his trademark spike hair and bear hugs, and for his fierce defense of the arts as a force in civic dialogue. Sellars is currently the artistic director of the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna (November 14 – December 13, 2006), and has invited contemporary international artists from diverse cultural backgrounds in the fields of music and opera, architecture, the visual arts and film to create new projects as part of the Vienna Mozart Year celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

As a team

, the flamboyant Sellars and quietly intense Adams are best known for their acclaimed collaborations on Nixon in China, and The Death of Klinghoffer. Both these productions were dedicated to the proposition that art, history, and politics are inseparable.

Doctor Atomic
A scene from the San Francisco Opera’s Doctor Atomic

Produced, Directed and Written by Jon Else

Producer: Bonni Cohen

Editor: Deborah Hoffmann

Composer: John Adams

Opera Directed by: Peter Sellars

Associate Producer: Linda Davis

Camera: Jon Else,  Jon Shenk,  Michael Chin,  Peter Thomas

Location Sound: John Haptas

Graphic Design: Drew Takahashi

Technical Coordinator: Jigar Mehta

Narrator: Eric Owens

Assistant Editor/Archive Supervisor: Linda Davis

Additional Camera: Peter Thomas

Additional Sound: Doug Dunderdale,  Dave McJunkin,  David Mehlman,  Gabe Monts

Project Accountant: Joey Xanders

Production Assistants
Sara Dosa
Rachel Berney
Sidney Scully
Craig Hickerson
Arris Shabaglian

Camera,  Grip & Electric
Lincoln Else
Howard Shack
Spencer Mulcahy
Bill Pelkey

Martin Sherwin
Barton Bernstein
Peter Galison
Siegfried Hecker

HD Online & Finishing
Loren Sorensen
Jon Vargo
David Weissman
Ed Rudolph
Gary Coates
Chris Martin

Sound Design
James LeBrecht
Patti Tauscher
Dan Olmsted

Archival Research
Richard Berge
Bonnie Rowan
Polly Pettit
Kenn Rabin
Historical Film and Sound
Footage from Trinity and Beyond courtesy of VCE.COM
United States National Archives and Records Administration
NBC News Archives
Getty Images
Library of Congress
4FP Archives
Sam Riegel
Ina-Institute National De L’Audiovisuel
Wytwornia Filmowa Czolowka
Day After Trinity © Jon Else

Historical Photographs
Rachel Fermi & Esther Samra,  Picturing the Bomb
Ulli Steltzer
Banesh Hoffmann Papers
Library of Congress,  Prints and Photographs Division,  NYWT&S Collection
United States National Archives and Records Administration
Toni Michnovicz Gibson
Elmer Donor
Philippe Halsman ©Halsman Estate
California Institute of Technology
Françoise Ulam
Daniel,  Jonathan and Rand Wilson
Fermilab Archives and Visual Media Services
Los Alamos National Laboratory Archives
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Rand McNally
McGill University Archives
AP Images
Mandeville Special Collections Library,  University of California,  San Diego
Text from The Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God,  translated by Swami Prabhavananda
and Christopher Isherwood,  used with permission by Vedanta Press
Niels Bohr Archive,  courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives
Maps provided by the Earth Sciences and Map Library at UC Berkeley
Bird/Sherwin Collection
©2006 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS),  New York
Marie Hansen/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Bernard Hoffman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
George Skadding/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Arnold Newman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
John Coster-Mullen
Plutonium core illustration by Jonathan Hull
Randall Hagadorn
Harvard University Archives
John Bigelow Taylor/Art Resource,  NY
21st Vek Studios
United States Army Signal Corps photograph courtesy of the Harry S. Truman Library
Peter Oppenheimer

Bill Sokol
Peter Jaszi
Kenneth Weinrib

Iris Films

Doctor Atomic score courtesy of Hendon Music,  Inc.,  a Boosey & Hawkes company

Wild Nights from Harmonium
Composed by John Adams (BMI)
Performed by John Adams courtesy of Nonesuch Records
By arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing
Published by Associated Music Publishers,  Inc. (BMI)

Disappointment Lake
Composed and performed by John Adams
Courtesy of Elektra Entertainment Group/Nonesuch Records
By arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing
Published by Boosey & Hawkes

Lisa Anderson
Kai Bird
Todd Boekelheide
April Busch
Donato Cabrera
Andres Cediel
Kip Cranna
Rob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Katy Garfield
Cynthia Gorney
Will Hamilton
Rob Harris
Lori Harrison
Robert Hass
Kevin Higa
Jorey Hurley
IATSE Local 16
Jay Kotcher
Dan Krauss
Ann Kroeber
Lauren Lazin
Carrie Lozano
Tom Luddy
Patrick Markle
Jason Marsh
Nevada Test Site
Steven Okazaki
Charles Oppenheimer
Judy Oppenheimer
David Peoples
Janet Peoples
Jeff Plunkett
Lourdes Portillo
Mary Powell
Ariana Reguzzioni
Frances Reid
Richard Rhodes
Mary Robinson
Max Robinson
Orville Schell
Patricia Sellars
Camille Servan-Schreiber
Staff at Los Alamos Labs and Museum
University of California,  Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Mark Urban
Steven White
Annelise Wunderlich

Music by John Adams
Libretto by Peter Sellars,  adapted from original sources
Commissioned by San Francisco Opera,  Pamela Rosenberg; Donald Runnicles,  Music Director and Principal Conductor
Conducted by Donald Runnicles
Directed by Peter Sellars
Choreography by Lucinda Childs
Scenery designed by Adrienne Lobel
Costumes designed by Dunya Ramicova
Lighting designed by Jim Ingalls
Sound designed by Mark Grey
Costumes fabricated by the San Francisco Opera Costume Shop
Scenery construction and painting by the San Francisco Opera Scenic Shop
Chorus Director Ian Robertson
Doctor Atomic is a co-production of SFO and Lyric Opera of Chicago and De Nederlandse Opera

Gerald Finley,  Kristine Jepson,  Tom Randle,  Eric Owens,  Richard Paul Fink,  James Maddalena,  Beth Clayton,  Thomas Glenn and Jay Hunter Morris

Special thanks to:
Keith Cerny
Shane Gasbarra

Executive Producer for ITVS Sally Jo Fifer

Wonders are Many is a co-production of Jon Else,  Actual Films,  and the Independent Television Service (ITVS),  with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This program was produced by Jon Else and Actual Films,  who are solely responsible for its content.

© 2007 Jon Else. All Rights Reserved.

Bomb Blueprint

For more information contact Bonni Cohen

Actual Films
39 Mesa Street, Suite 206
San Francisco, California 94129

Bomb Test