L.A. Film Festival


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Los Angeles Film Festival's move from Hollywood to Westwood was a wise one. LAFF's popularity caused parking and overflow problems at its previous WGA and Sunset 5 venues; 2006's switch to Westwood and its spacious movie venues (including UCLA's James Bridges Theatre) has not only made the fest more accessible but more adventurous (George Lucas is this year's Guest Director, for example, overseeing the screening of 265 films, including two dozen world premieres and a "Films That Got Away" series sponsored by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association).

This July the ongoing LAFCA series offered such worthy, unseen films as Waiting For Happiness, All Tomorrow's Parties and the 2004 Argentine masterpiece, Los Muertos. LAFCA also sponsored a panel discussion on the market forces affecting the distribution of foreign and independent films.

One of the finest documentary films shown at the 2006 fest was WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?

Did you ever wonder what happened to the electric car? Ten years ago, GM launched just such a car. It truly was a revolutionary vehicle: no gas required, no oil changes, no mufflers, rare brake changes. It was slick, quiet, efficient and, best of all in smog-challenged southern California, had a zero emission rating. A friend of mine, the late Don Devlin, leased one of the cars (GM wouldn't sell outright), and swore by it. He took me for a ride in it and I became a convert. The electric car seemed to be the car of the future.

A few years later, Don reported that GM had begun repossessing the vehicles. Despite the fact that Don loved his car and was up to date on lease payments, he was obliged to return it to GM. When Don fought back and tried to fend GM off, the company threatened to sue. In the end Don, along with a thousand other EV1 owners, had their cars taken away from them. Up until the day he died, about five years ago, Don could never understand why this had happened.

Now Don's son, Dean Devlin (Godzilla, The Patriot, Independence Day), has co-produced WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?, a film which investigates the mystery shrouding the short, unhappy life of the EV1. Directed by Chris Paine, the film features interviews with GM spokesmen, engineers, inventors, EV drivers, politicians and members of the California Air Resources Board. Paine also includes footage that shows the first EVs (dating back to the 1920s) and their evolution over the years, culminating in the sleek, swift GM EV1.

Some shocking things emerge from the historical survey. Not only did GM withdraw the EV1 from the marketplace, it began hiding and then destroying them. Like a murderer trying to cover his crime by setting fire to his victim, GM had the cars mashed, turned into scrap. When the EV drivers got wind of this, some of them organized into protest groups which demonstrated in front of junk yards, trying to save the last of the breed.

GM reacted by scooping up the cars in the middle of the night

and transporting them to the wilds of the Arizona desert, where they sat awaiting destruction. The activists hired a helicopter and discovered the cache from the air. More demonstrations followed, but media coverage was poor and the will of powerful GM won out. Every single EV1 was wiped off the face of the earth, all but one, a dismantled model on exhibit at the Peterson Automobile Museum in L.A.

The combination of corporate malfeasance, political collusion and corruption, media capitulation and public indifference led to the death of the ER1. The proof, the shocking details, the tragedy of it all, are presented with power and guts in Paine's new film.

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? will go into limited release after the close of the 2006 festival.