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Steve James
UK US 2022    101'
⚬ History ⚬ Crime & Investigative ⚬ Current Affairs & Politics 


A brilliant nuclear physicist, a passionate leftist, and the explosive secret they kept over a remarkable 52-year marriage.

Recruited in 1944 as an 18-year-old Harvard undergraduate to be the youngest physicist on the Manhattan Project to create a bomb before the Germans did, Ted Hall didn’t share his colleagues’ elation after the successful detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb. Increasingly concerned during 1944—with Germany clearly losing the war—that a U.S. post-war monopoly on such a powerful weapon could lead to nuclear catastrophe, he decided beginning that October to start passing key information about the bomb’s construction to the Soviet Union. After the war, at the University of Chicago, he met and married Joan, a fellow student with whom he shared a passion for classical music and socialist causes — and the explosive secret of his espionage. Living under a cloud of suspicion and years of FBI surveillance and intimidation, the pair raised a family while Ted refocused his scientific brilliance on groundbreaking biophysics research. A COMPASSIONATE SPY, two-time Oscar® nominee Steve James’ nuanced documentary, reveals the twists and turns of this real-life spy story, its profound impact on nuclear history, and the couple’s remarkable love and life together during more than 50 years of marriage.

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“gripping” - Variety

“moving, thoughtful” - The Playlist

“a nuanced portrait of love and espionage” - The Hollywood Reporter



Steve James


Mark Mitten, Dave Lindorff, Steve James

Executive Producers

Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Tim Horsburgh, Gordon Quinn

Production Companies

Participant, Mitten Media, Kartemquin Films


Tom Bergmann


Steve James


Dawn Sutter Madell

“gripping” - Variety


“an intimate portrait of a single person who knowingly took it upon himself to alter the course of history” - IndieWire


“moving, thoughtful” - The Playlist


"grippingly told" - Screen Daily


“a nuanced portrait of love and espionage” - The Hollywood Reporter


“hidden history” - The Wrap



Venice International Film Festival 2022

Telluride Film Festival 2022

Camden IFF 2022

Cambridge Film Festival 2022

IDFA 2022


Film Details

Runtime 101'
Production Countries UK, USA


Steve James is an award-winning filmmaker whose career has spanned more than three decades. His most recent docuseries, CITY SO REAL, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to be named one of the best television shows of 2020 by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, Slate, The LA Times, and the Hollywood Reporter, among many others.  The show was nominated for two Emmys, an Independent Spirit Award, and three Cinema Eye Honors, among others. His previous docuseries, 2018’s AMERICA TO ME, won the Cinema Eye Honors Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Series for Broadcast. James’ other films include ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, which was nominated for an Oscar and won a News & Documentary Emmy Award; LIFE ITSELF, for which he won a News & Documentary Emmy for Outstanding Editing; and THE INTERRUPTERS. James’ 1994 documentary feature HOOP DREAMS won a Peabody Award, DGA Award, Independent Spirit Award and an International Documentary Award and was nominated for an Oscar. 


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