Electric Cars Alive 'n Kickin' at LA Film Fest
By Bill Moore
Los Angeles, CA. -- The LA Film Festival, now going on in the Westwood section of the smoggy metroplex, closed off a block-long stretch of Broxton Avenue in front of the Landmark Regent theater, turning it into a peaceful, pollution-free pedestrian walkway. The only cars allowed yesterday were more than two dozen RAV4 EV battery electric SUVs, many sporting banners asking Who Killed the Electric Car?. The occasion was the Film Festival’s Saturday matinee showing of Chris Paine’s compelling new documentary of the same name.
Funded by "Independence Day" producer Dean Devlin and PlinyMinor producers Richard and Tavin Titus, who made their fortune from the Internet during its heyday -- curiously at Chris Paine’s expense -- "Who Killed the Electric Car?" recounts the tragically short life and early death of the first modern electric car, the GM EV1.
For Paine, it’s been a three year-long “investigation” into why the major carmakers eventually killed their own creations; and in the end, like Agatha Christy’s Murder on the Orient Express, there are many accomplices, but you’ll have to see the film when it opens in limited release June 28th in L.A. and New York to find out “who done it.” The film will play in other cities through the summer.
The L.A. Film Festival screening took place in the old-fashioned, 30s-era 400-seat Landmark Regent theater, which was sold-out Saturday for the 90-minute "murder mystery". Present for the debut and red carpet walk were a few recognizable Hollywood celebrities including Allison Janney ("West Wing") and Catherine Bell ("Jag"). A number of the local Los Angeles EV activitists featured in the film were also present at the screening including Chelsea Sexton, Greg Hansen, Paul Scott , and Wally Rippel from AeroVironment, which designed the original EV1 concept car, as well as Chris Paine the film’s writer and director.
The “buzz” for the film has been very good, starting with its initial debut at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been shown at a number of other festivals around the country to gauge audience reactions, giving the producers, Paine and his editors the opportunity to fine-tune the final version, which is being distributed by Sony Picture Classics.
What everyone is wondering is how will the film fare in its first opening weekend, which is when movies tend to either make or break for the producers and distributor, though based on the standing ovation at the end of the Landmark Regent showing, as well as the enthusiastic audience reactions during the film, Who Killed the Electric Car, could very well end up in competition with “An Inconvenient Truth” for a potential Oscar nomination, or at least that's what the Hollywood Reporter is saying.
Clearly, the film presents a problem for General Motors and the California Air Resources Board, especially the latter’s former chairman, Dr. Alan Lloyd, who admits he was a strong supporter of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. General Motor’s duplicity becomes painfully apparent when a spokesperson contends that the 1,100 recalled EV1 will be donated to museums and universities; and those that aren’t will be recycled.
"But they certainly won’t be crushed," he states emphatically.
Aerial video shot from a helicopter over a remote section of GM’s expansive desert proving grounds in Mesa, Arizona showed hundreds of crushed EV1s, stacked like corpses in a Nazi death camp. Contrary to GM’s spokesperson, only a handful of functionless cars were eventually given to those museums and universities. (Rumor has it that there is one and possibly two functioning EV1s still in private hands, hidden somewhere in the United States as the result of sloppy book keeping on GM’s part).
And GM isn’t alone in the dirty deed of taking perfectly good, functioning, efficient, clean electric cars and destroying them. Honda was caught red-handed having its EV Plus cars shredded and Toyota tried to do the same with its, but was largely stopped by virtually single-handed activist action from the likes of the ever-vocal Doug Korthof and a fearless ten-year girl named Molly Tucker, who was also on hand for the screening with her parents, Bruce and Bonnie, RAV4 EV owners themselves.
Producer Dean Devlin -- whose late-father Don leased the first EV1-- also helped organize a “Green Festival” in the parking lot adjacent to the theater where one of the few remaining -- and functionless -- EV1s was on display, along with Dave and Heather Raboy’s now-legendary Ford Ranger EV, which he and a handful of supporters used as a rallying point to prevent Ford from destroying many of its own electric vehicles.
The clear lesson from “Who Killed the Electric Car?” isn’t how evil and nefarious are the oil and car companies, though their greed and selfish myopia at the expense of the public’s health and the nation’s economic security are painfully obvious . The lesson of Chris Paine’s emotional film, and it will in places move you to tears and laughter, is that we, each of us, can make a difference. Raboy’s rebellion forced Ford to change. Little Molly Tucker helped move Toyota. Alexandra Paul and Collette Divine’s courage brought national attention to the issue.
We aren’t powerless against giant, soulless corporations driven by ambition and greed. Those same corporations are made up of caring human beings who simply haven’t yet come to terms with their role in "Who Killed the Electric Car?", but they are starting to, and between Paine’s homage to a cleaner “Future in Motion” and Al Gore’s thoughtful jeremiad on global warming, the real summer blockbuster of 2006 isn’t likely to be the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, but a tipping point in national consciousness inspired by simple, real-life stories of a handful of heroes, young and old, rich and poor, straight and gay, left and right, black and white, who helped save the planet from itself.
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