A Compassionate Spy – Director Steve James

Directed by two-time Oscar® nominated filmmaker Steve James (Hoop, Life Itself, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail), A COMPASSIONATE SPY is a gripping real-life spy thriller about controversial Manhattan Project physicist Ted Hall, who infamously provided nuclear secrets to  the Soviet Union, told through the perspective of his loving wife Joan, who protected his secret for decades. Recruited in 1944 as an 18-year-old Harvard undergraduate to help Robert Oppenheimer and his team create a bomb, Hall was the youngest physicist on the Manhattan Project, and didn’t share his colleagues’ elation after the successful detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb. Concerned that a U.S. post-war monopoly on such a powerful weapon could lead to nuclear catastrophe, Hall began passing key information about the bomb’s construction to the Soviet Union. After the war, he met, fell in love with, 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. The pair raised a family while living under a cloud of suspicion and years of FBI surveillance and intimidation. A COMPASSIONATE SPY 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. Award winning filmmaker Steve James (Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, City So Real, America To Me) joins us for a conversation on the fraught political circumstances that brought Ted Hall to make such a radical decision, how Joan and Ted navigated their post war life, and why having a more nuanced understanding of the Cold War and nuclear destruction may save the world from an unimaginable conflagration. 


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About the filmmaker – Steve James was born in Hampton, Virginia, USA. One of America’s most acclaimed documentary directors, Steve’s first film, Hoop Dreams, is the story of two inner city Chicago teens striving to make it out of their neighborhoods and to the NBA. The film won every major critics’ award as well as the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Peabody, and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, awards from the Directors Guild of America, MTV Movie Award’s “Best New Filmmaker” honor and hundreds of other awards and accolades, making it the most awarded film of the year. Recently, Hoop Dreams was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, signifying the film’s enduring importance to American film history. James is also known for other award winning documentary films including; The Interrupters (2011), Life Itself (2014) and Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2016). His documentary series works include America to Me (2018), City So Real (2020) and most recently, The Luckiest Guy in the World (2023). Steve James has been based in Chicago, Illinois for his entire career.


93% on RottenTomatoes

“This first-rate portrait gets intimate with an atomic-age Edward Snowden, all the better to cast a long shadow.” – Phil Hoad, Guardian

“The documentary doubles as a mournful reflection on the age of nuclear proliferation – and a tribute to those who opposed the buildup.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

“A Compassionate Spy borrows the look and feel of a historical espionage thriller and builds some momentum and moral complexity along the way, but it finds its real potency as a generational family drama.” – Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

“The film demonstrates its director’s characteristic nose for strong material and knack for gripping, straightforward storytelling.” – Guy Lodge, Variety

“It’s worth being reminded by James’s layered, grippingly told account of a principled betrayal that when it comes to the biggest threats facing the globe, sometimes one person in the right circumstance can make a difference.” – Robert Abele, TheWrap