Downwinders see themselves in new Trinity documentary


New Mexico-based filmmaker Lois Lipman’s documentary, “First We Bombed New Mexico,” was a recent hit at the ninth annual Las Cruces International Film Festival, telling the stories of the generations of New Mexicans impacted by the 1945 test of the atomic bomb.

New Mexico’s nuclear history has been on the national stage for the last year as filmmakers from major and independent studios alike have sought to tell the story of the tested bomb at Trinity Site.

Lipman’s documentary appears on theatrical screens following the recent sweep at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards by Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” The 2023 blockbuster hit, addressing the World War II-era nuclear test, took home seven Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

However, a major portion of the story was left untold – cue Lipman’s documentary.

“First We Bombed New Mexico” is a feature-length documentary that follows members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium for several years. The consortium is an organization founded in 2005 whose members have personally had their health affected by the Trinity test, particularly various types of cancer due to overexposure to radioactive fallout.

Members of the consortium come from across the state, but are largely focused in towns such as Tularosa, Carizozo, Bingham and Ruidoso.

One of the lead voices in the film is consortium cofounder Tina Cordova, a thyroid cancer survivor. She told film fest audiences that cancer is not just a possibility in her family, but a guarantee – not if, but when.

Viewers are led by Cordova and other expert voices through the history of nuclear testing in New Mexico, the medical impact the testing has had on people who lived within the vicinity of the bomb’s test and the rapidly shrinking deadline to expand legal compensation to downwinders in New Mexico.

“When I first watched the film, the first couple of times before it was really completed in the format that it's in right now, I couldn't hardly watch it,” Cordova said. “There's too much of it that's very personal and there's so many people in it that are gone now. So very many and they're gone. And they'll never get to see it and they'll never see the justice that we started out fighting for.”


Fellow consortium members alive in July 1945 during the testing described seeing the fallout from the test and thinking it was snowing. These people, who were children at the time, remember playing in the “snow,” trying to catch it on their tongue.

In the years following, a majority of people who experienced the fallout first hand have experienced some type of illness or form of cancer. And the cancer rates in their children and grandchildren is also elevated, an expert explained in the film.

Now, Cordova and her fellow consortium members are working to get the federal government to acknowledge the damage Trinity Test had on New Mexico downwinders and provide compensation to those affected.

“When they decided to do (test the bomb) here, they didn't just destine those people who were alive at the time. They destined all the generations after that to come. They set out our children and our grandchildren's destiny and our great grandchildren, on and on forevermore, because our genetics now carry this footprint of being overexposed to radiation,” Cordova said.

The law is called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, and Tularosa Basin downwinders are not currently eligible for compensation. The U.S. Senate recently voted to extend the compensation to include New Mexico downwinders, however the U.S. House of Representatives is still short of several votes to enact the law. A June deadline approaches this year where congress members must pass the law or an extension.

Screenings in Las Cruces

All three screenings of “First We Bombed New Mexico'' were packed last week at the LCIFF. The film also won Best New Mexico Film.

The consortium chartered a bus to pick up members from Albuquerque to Tularosa on Sunday so they could view their stories being told. Cordova explained that many of these people are older and would not have had a way to come to Las Cruces for the screening otherwise. Consortium organizers rolled out a red carpet for them to provide the full Hollywood premiere experience.

The line to file into the theater was down the Cineport 10 hallways, full of downwinders wearing their organization’s yellow T-shirts, local and state lawmakers and others simply interested in the topic.

“The documentary certainly added much information that I had not known and gave me a fuller picture of the continuing situation,” said Judy Lazarus Yellon, an audience member of the Friday screening. “I felt great sadness, as I took in much of the information that was shared. But I did not feel depressed because I also connected to lots of hope. This documentary contains important information that does need to be shared with a wide audience, and it was powerfully and expertly created.”

The film debuted at the Santa Fe International Film Festival in October 2023 and has since been screened at festivals across the country, winning awards as it goes. It will next screen in

Cleveland, Ohio; Mendocino, Calif.; Great Barrington, Mass.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Gig Harbor, Wash.

Those connected to the film are also working to partner with a distribution company to make the documentary more widely accessible and even available for streaming in the future.

Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, documentary, First We Bombed New Mexico