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Monday, December 03, 2007

Yesterday was the last day of this year's Brighton Film Festival, and following the success of 'Billy the Kid' on Thursday (which was neither a Western, nor fictional - thanks for the comments), I decided to go and see another documentary...

Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines
Big Sis is at flight school in Australia, and I need something to chat to her about at Christmas, so her imminent death seemed like a good place to start.

Former airline pilot Tristan Loraine has somehow managed to scrape together a budget of $400,000 to make Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, a 90-minute exposé of what he claims is the biggest cover-up in aviation history. I love a good conspiracy theory, especially one which involves the poisoning of my sister, so I couldn't wait to get down there. And it's a good job I did, because to put it politely, turnout was a little on the disappointing side. I think I was the only person there who wasn't in the film. But hey, that's what happens when you screen a movie at 11am on a Sunday morning. Everyone's in church. Obviously.

Toxic AirlinesAnyhoo, having walked through the door of the Sallis Benney Theatre and handed over my three quid entrance fee, I was accosted by a woman with an Australian accent who handed me the book on the right, and a CD single of the film's theme song by Kate Garbutt. I began a long speech about how I'd love to buy them, and almost certainly would, but that I'd like to see the film first, whilst promising to personally seek her out afterwards and hand over large amounts of cash for all manner of merchandise. At which point she told me they were free. So I stuffed them straight into my bag and ducked into the toilets before she changed her mind.

When I emerged, I was similarly accosted by a bloke who tried to give me another copy of the book and CD. Being as honest as the day is long, I politely turned him down - a decision I regretted the moment I got home and discovered that the book is £9.99 on Amazon, and the CD £3.99. But still, at least that's Sis's Christmas present sorted. I wouldn't normally spend as much as £14 on her, so she should be quite pleased.

Tristan LoraineOnce inside the auditorium, the bloke I'd just met outside the toilets walked in and introduced himself as Tristan Loraine, the director. He thanked us all for braving the rain on a Sunday morning, before adding that most of the audience have some connection to the film. Given that there were only about twelve of us there, I did feel like I'd gate-crashed some kind of private screening for cast & crew. I heard a couple behind me say they'd driven all the way from Buckinghamshire that morning, and had left at the crack of dawn to get there in time. I was tempted to tell them they should have flown, but I wasn't sure they'd appreciate the joke.

The film premiered in Paris on November 23rd, and is heading for the American film festival circuit in 2008, but I'm assuming this was its UK debut, so even ignoring the free merchandise, it was a privilege to be there. And, I have to say, the film was excellent. It focuses on the fact that the air we breathe whilst travelling on planes comes straight from the jet engines, and is unfiltered, meaning that it can potentially be contaminated with neurotoxins and carcinogens from the jet oil.

Tristan himself is now unable to fly after being exposed to these fumes in the cockpit of a Boeing 757, and apparently he's not alone. In fact, by the end of the film, we'd been introduced to so many pilots and cabin crew whose health has been ruined by toxic fumes, that I felt like putting on a gas mask and heading straight for the nearest exits. Which are located here, here and here.

Susan MichaelisOne such person was Susan Michaelis, a highly experienced airline pilot who was forced to retire due to ill health after breathing contaminated air, and subsequently helped set up the Australian Senate Investigation into cabin air quality issues on the BAe 146. I know her well. She was the woman who gave me the book and CD in the foyer.

I must admit, I walked into the cinema expecting this to be a crackpot film by a group of wacky conspiracy theorists (which is my favourite kind of show on Channel Five), but it actually surprised me. It's a convincing and well-made documentary which doesn't ruin its argument by playing to the camera (Michael Moore, take note) and is intelligent, yet easily comprehensible to the likes of me. And I struggle to follow Dr Who. I can highly recommend it. Though perhaps not as an in-flight movie.