Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Pilot Error": a journalist goes it alone to expose airline and aircraft manufacturer culpability for a major ocean airplane crash

The film “Pilot Error”, directed by Joe Anderson, written with Roger Rapaport (the producer), based on Rapoport’s novel.  And although the end credits have the usual “fiction” disclaimer, the film appears to be based on the 2009  crash of Air France 447 (Airbus A330), from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, as explained in Wikipedia here.  The flight tragedy may be related to an icing of the aircraft pitot tubes, and the inability of the other systems and possibly the pilots to respond correctly.   
The film, essentially a live-action docudrama, might be compared to documentaries about other high-profile aviation disasters, including “TWA Flight 800” (2013) by Kristina Borgesson (My “CF” blog, Jan. 4, 2014), and CNN’s “Vanished: The Mystery of Malaysia Flight 370” (TV blog, Oct. 8, 2014).  The tone of the film also would apply to the investigation of the major Amtrak Train 188 wreck in Philadelphia earlier this month, where engineer error seems to have happened but might have been related to distraction, sabotage or some other equipment failure (as well as lack of automated speed control).  
The movie and book provide a fictitious airline (“Air Paris”) and aircraft (“Atlas”), and suppose an eager reporter in Milwaukee uncovers a quasi-coverup by the airline.  Rio is replaced by Buenos Aries. 
The writing about the reporter’s professional and personal situations seems a little overwrought, following screenwriting 101 ideas about creating rooting interest and insurmountable obstacles for protagonists.  Nicola Wilson (Kate Thomsen), as the film opens, takes repeated voicemails from a helicopter mom in Paris as she sits in an airport.  Soon, we learn she missed the flight and went back to work.  (I broke a vacation once in 1976 for quirky reasons.)  Along the way, the film brings up the idea that you could forget to bring your passport for an international flight, or that you could use your spouse’s (don’t know if that’s true).  Then, the movie has her taking “fear of flying” remediation lessons.  Well, I don’t swim.  I guess you could build a movie plot around that.  In fact, that idea could reinforce a plot point in my own novel, in a way I hadn’t thought about before.  
But when she learns that her best friend apparently died on the crash (there is a suggestion that Nicola’s own fear put the friend on the flight, some bad karma) she delves into it, and gets into a fight with her employer.  Her bosses (such as Richard Riehle, who reminds me of Wilfred Brimley) warn she need to write the stories that readers want (to make the paper profitable) – well, aren’t reporters and journalists supposed to be objective and tell the complete truth?  The paper would run a big lawsuit risk because, in France, truth alone is not an adequate defense to libel (Kitty Kelly has said the same thing about British law in talking about her book “The Royals”).  
In anger, Nicola quits and develops an independent video blog to report on the accident.  She maxes her credit cards and needs to pimp her site and beg for money.  I guess she needs to follow all of Blogtyrant’s (that’s Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplin) advice on how to make niche blogs make big money.   

She writes a book manuscript and seems to have a separate publisher (she won’t have to self-publish, even if she has already self-instantiated on the blog). But another writer plagiarizes her but then changes the conclusions to blame the crash on “pilot error”.  Eventually she travels to France for a surprising conclusion.  
This film has been produced by the author (Dewey Decimal Productions) and distributed by Michigan Blue Lake (site ). The on location filming was in Michigan (a state that want so use the film industry to bring back Detroit), around Milwaukee, and in France, and looks sharp.   It has very limited showings.  Yesterday, there seemed to be an error in search engine show times, and I went to the Cinema Arts theater in Fairfax VA and was told that the theater had been rented to show it one day previously.  The producer provided me a screening link on Vimeo to watch it this morning.  He also says that theaters asked that the film not be released on DVD or streaming while showing in limited theatrical release.  This practice sounds silly (and unfair if he really had to rent the theater, as I was told), keeping content ‘scarce”, when it shows in few theaters and only briefly.  (A normal Amazon rental is $6.99, less than most movie tickets.) I’ve talked about this issue by email with Mark Cuban (Blogmaverick and Magnolia Pictures) who admits that “lowballing” (my term) is a fear in media circles, but Magnolia Pictures has been willing to release pictures on DVD or video and in theaters at the same time, hoping that sincere movie customers (in larger cities) will go to see the films in theaters.  IFC did the same with “Good Kill”, reviewed here Monday. The same issue exists in book publishing, especially with self-published books, where hardcopy competes with Kindle or Nook and free PDF’s online.  This is becoming known as the “It’s Free” problem.  
The film make come across, ultimately, as a didactic on what airlines must do to make flights safer.  Toward the end, some of the scenes seem written to make these points, rather than simply to follow the story.  One can certainly ask, should this film have been a non-fiction documentary about the Air France flight instead?  It seems odd that it would be shown in rental spaces (like Christian films are sometimes) rather than (as far as I know) enter the festival circuit and then established corporate distributors.  I do wonder if IFC or Magnolia would be interested in this film, it would seem to fit their cultures. 
Picture: Crossing Lake Michigan, westbound, my flight, June 2011.  

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