Documentary explores the life of the most important man you've never heard of

Mandisa Shields

March 25, 2014

Newhouse hosts 'Garwin: Witness to History' premiere March 27

At first, Newhouse professor Richard Breyer was intimidated to meet Richard Garwin, the scientist whose design was used to create the first hydrogen bomb in 1952. But given the chance to document the life of someone who so profoundly changed the course of history, Breyer and fellow filmmaker and Newhouse alumnus Anand Kamalakar, knew they couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The two have teamed up once again, this time to present “Garwin: Witness to History,” a film about the little-known scientist who has also been an adviser to every president since Eisenhower on issues of war and peace. The film will premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27 in the Heroy Geology Library on the Syracuse University campus. The event is free, open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

Breyer is co-director of documentary film and history, a joint degree program with the Newhouse and Maxwell schools. Kamalakar is a 1995 Newhouse alumnus and founder of Trilok Fusion Media in Brooklyn. The two worked together on “300 Miles to Freedom,” a film about a fugitive slave that premiered at the Newhouse School in 2011. Walter Montgomery ’67, CEO and partner with Robinson, Lerer and Montgomery LLC, is executive producer of the “Garwin” film.

Breyer says his intimidation in meeting Garwin turned more toward admiration after he traveled across the country to meet him. Breyer says he came to see Garwin, who won the National Medal of Science in 2002, as a considerate and kind man.

Breyer and Kamalakar worked to capture Garwin as both an important person in history but also as a regular person. The film portrays Garwin as a man who gets lost, loves his wife deeply and is very human.

The two filmmakers traveled the globe with Garwin, criss-crossing the United States and then Europe. They captured him on film as he searched for ways to make the world a better place, Breyer says. Garwin continues to search for solutions to issues such as global warming, increased production of nuclear weapons and the energy crisis. They also examined Garwin’s complex and controversial science career.

Garwin’s impact on history is both profound and controversial, given the role he played in developing the hydrogen bomb, which played a role in the development of bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Breyer says he feels much of that controversy is rooted in what the government did with Garwin’s design, not the design itself.

“If he didn’t do it, someone else would have,” Breyer says.

So what’s the point of this film? Breyer feels it’s about more than just Garwin or the bomb he helped develop.

“Hopefully it teaches youth how important democracy is and gives them some sense of what (these weapons) really are and what the process was of them evolving,” Breyer says.

Although Breyer was once Kamalakar’s professor, today Breyer says they are like brothers. They know each other’s families and stay in close contact. Their creative and professional bond helped make “300 Miles to Freedom” and now, “Garwin.” Breyer says their differences also help make their films successful.

“We’re different ages so we have different perspectives,” he says. “Also he’s a very good editor and does most of the shooting and I worry about story and storyline.”

For more information, contact Breyer at 315-443-9249 or

Mandisa Shields is a freshman newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.