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‘Significant role’: Documentary looks into Alamogordo’s part in development of atomic bomb

John Emde, Larry Sheffield’s grandfather, and mother, Jane, in the middle, from a personal collection. (Courtesy of Larry Sheffield)

The development of the atomic bomb was deeply rooted in New Mexico.

Last year was the 75th anniversary of the creation.

Larry Sheffield, a New Mexico native filmmaker, set out to tell another story with his documentary “Alamogordo, Center of the World, Trinity 1945.”

“Seventy-five years later, we’re still dealing with the effects of that moment,” Sheffield says. “It’s good for the topic to remain at the forefront, because so much happened. I wanted to give a different perspective with this film.”

Sheffield wanted to create a short film – less than 10 minutes – when he started the project about six years ago.

After his mother died, he was going through some family photos and Christmas cards.

“I always knew my grandfather (John Emde) worked at Los Alamos (National Laboratory),” he says. “I started connecting some dots. I found out my grandfather was in Hanford (Washington) and Oak Ridge (Tennessee). Then he moved to Ruidoso to work in Los Alamos.”

Sheffield’s grandfather would travel from Ruidoso to Los Alamos for the week and the get back home Friday evening.

A photo from the Trinity Site as seen in the documentary “Alamogordo, Center of the World, Trinity 1945.” (Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)

“I thought he was doing construction work,” he says. “But his clearance was more than that. That spurred my interest into the Trinity Site, and that’s where the film goes.”

As he started doing research and collecting artifacts, it was clear that he wanted to tell the story from Alamogordo’s point of view.

The city was selected because it wasn’t near anything.

“I grew up in Alamogordo, and a lot of people don’t realize the significant role it played,” he says. “The film is about the city’s role from the beginning to after the Trinity Site.”

Sheffield got some help from the historian at LANL.

“I was sent over 400 photographs and video footage,” he says. “I had all this stuff in my hands and started to put together a cool story.”

As the film came closer to finishing, the pandemic began and Sheffield’s plans to screen in front of a live audience in Ruidoso began to diminish.

He actually had an event scheduled on July 16 at the Flickinger Center for Performing Arts in Alamogordo.

“I thought by July the pandemic would be over,” he says. “Of course the world just stayed paralyzed by the pandemic.”

But that wasn’t the end.

Filmmaker Larry Sheffield.

Sheffield was able to go the festival circuit route and has found success.

The film got an award of recognition at the Accolade Global Film Competition. It also picked up an award at the Best Shorts Competition, as well as a win at the Top Shorts Film Festival.

Recently, it was an official selection at the Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles.

“Three separate film festivals we picked up awards for,” he says. “A fourth is an honorable mention for documentary. Getting recognized is special because I didn’t expect any of this when making the film.”

In 2021, Sheffield would still like to screen the film in Alamogordo, as well as at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque.


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