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A Dark Reflection targets Cannes

Tristan Loraine

Published on 1st July 2014

Southwater film-maker Tristan Loraine has recently finished his most ambitious project, A Dark Reflection, which could inspire changes in the airline industry...

The latest film by your production company, Fact Not Fiction Films, is about an issue you feel particularly strongly about, isn't it?

Yes, I was a Captain with a commercial airline for twenty years, but I was ill health retired because of the issues of the contaminated air caused by oils on aeroplanes. In 2005, I did an Iron Man triathlon and the following year I couldn't even run half a mile. That is the effect these toxic chemicals can have on you.

What are the issues with these 'toxic chemicals' then?

For two years before I left, I started to notice what I would call 'battle damage'. After exposure (on a flight) I would wake up the next morning feeling nauseous, sick, and often I would get chemical blister burns on my nose. Also I found that I was not thinking sharply. I presented the airline with my medical information and they grounded me for a few months as they didn't really know what to do. When I returned to flying, I went downhill very quickly. The doctors said 'You can't expose him any more' so the airline pulled my medical certificate and that was the end of my career as a pilot.

I have never heard of toxic fumes on an airplane. Is yours an isolated case?

Other pilots have reported it, along with crew and passengers, but it does depend on the individual and the amount of exposure they have. Genetically, everybody is different; You hear the analogy of people saying 'I smoked all of my life and I was okay.' Then you have people with lung cancer in their thirties. Research suggests that oil contaminating the air on a plane causes a risk to the unborn, a risk of infertility, and possibly neurological damage.

Does the aviation industry agree with you on this issue?

They know what the problem is but there isn't pressure on them to do anything about it, because passengers are being kept in the dark. When the first commercial jets came about in the 1960's people smoked cigarettes on planes. So if oils were contaminating the air supply, nobody really noticed. When the smoking ban came in people started to smell the oil, and began asking questions. An Australian girl fell sick on a flight and started a legal campaign. It took almost ten years but a court in Australia ruled that inhaling heated oil fumes was harmful. But generally speaking, a passenger will assume they are safe. They will never assume the air is being pumped full of toxic chemicals. It's all down to the commercial reality - if nobody complains, why would the industry do
anything about it?

So you thought you would make a film about it?

Actually, the first thing I did was to start writing a book about it. Then I went to the National Film and Television School and said 'I'm a bus driver in the sky, I want to make some films; retrain me!' I made my first documentary, Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines, and that triggered two calls for a public enquiry. It premiered in Paris and was also shown at the Capitol.

Did the documentary have the impact you hoped for?

It was the most amazing experience. When we screened in Paris, at the International Festival of Environmental Films, people would not leave the cinema as they were outraged by what they had heard and seen in the documentary. After that, we felt we wanted to make a film on the same issue. We had this grand plan of making a $20 million film, as we were very ambitious.

But finding $20million proved tricky...

We went to Cannes to pitch the idea. They said 'Well, what have you done?' We said 'We've done this documentary.' Once they had finished laughing, they said 'Make a film, and then come back and see us.' So I rang my brother Tarquin and I said 'We need to make a film!' We decided that the British Government could be the bad guys and a female SAS soldier would be the hero. Tarquin wrote the script - his first film script - and ten weeks after that first phone call we were filming 31 North 62 East (Too Close to the Truth).

Was it a successful film?

To be honest, it was all done in such a rush. You can never really develop a story in ten weeks. We didn't have much money either – the film only cost about £160,000, which I believe is still the lowest budget film in the UK ever to have had a cinema release. We had amazing people in it (including John Rhys-Davies, Heather Peace and Marina Sirtis) but the film has its weaknesses. Its main weakness was that we tried to make an action film with no money. You never do that, and it was totally stupid. That was me being naïve to be honest. There are scenes where people are raiding a building but there are no explosions as we didn't have any money.

Still, a great learning experience for you?

What 31 North 62 East taught us was the art of making films. Although it only scores about 4 out of 10 on IMDB (Internet Movie Database), from a technical point of view it was faultless. We knew we could make a very good film, but we were weak in executing it. After that we did some documentaries, and then thought we should make a film to prepare ourselves for A Dark Reflection. So we made Shady Lady.

How was Shady Lady received?

It was a feature length documentary about the longest bombing mission in the Second World War. It was okay, but again we didn't have the resources. It was a bit of a rush, and the special effects company let us down. They gave us garbage visual effects two days before our deadline. Now we have filmed A Dark Reflection.

What are the film's objectives?

The objective is to educate the world to the issue of contaminated air on aircraft in an entertaining way, a bit like Erin Brokovich or All the President's Men. The public remain uninformed, so hopefully the film will lead to more people complaining and forcing the airline industry to do something about it. We have also tried to put Horsham on the map by filming scenes here. The story is based on two journalists who work for the Sussex Standard newspaper. By chance, one of them runs into this story and starts digging.

Locals should be able to spot one or two of the film's locations then?

We shot the hospital scenes in Petra, Jordan, but locally we filmed at the Bluebell Railway, Shoreham Airport, South Downs Gliding Club, The Causeway, Carfax, and Horsham Cricket Club. The people of Horsham have been incredible and it has meant we've been able to keep the budget right down. For example, South Lodge lent us use of the hotel for three days. We would not have been able to budget for that, but the staff there couldn't have been more accommodating.

How have you funded the film? Do you have studio backing?

No, it's a co-operative film, so everybody who worked on A Dark Reflection has shares in proportion to what they put in. We all own the film. Two weeks before we started filming, I was sat in Cote having a coffee with assistant producer Sarah Holloway, and we realised we had enough money to shoot for two of the eight weeks we needed. By that stage, we had a core team in place, and we discussed whether we would pull the plug on it or go for it. We thought, 'Let's just do it'.

So who has financed the movie? The cast and crew?

It's so hard to fund a big project film when you're not really well-known, but the money has mainly come in from crew unions, pilots, passengers, and parties interested in the issue of contaminated air. There are even people in the aerospace industry who gave money but don't want to be named. It's a novel way of doing it and we believe it is the most expensive co-operative film ever made in the UK.

You took the film to Cannes this year?
Cannes has two parts –the Film Festival and the Market. It is the market which is of interest to us as it's where films are bought and sold. There are thousands of films for sale, all with people pitching, meeting, networking, selling and buying. You've got to work hard to try and get the film exposure and find a good sales company that will get your film out there.

Did you have much success?

We are very fortunate in that we have three offers on the table, with four other people looking at it. We showed the opening seven minutes to a film salesman, and he turned to me and said 'Yes, I will take it.' Even after seven minutes he could see the production values. We also received good critical feedback. One reviewer didn't understand it was based on fact, so we've made changes and now the film starts with a title card stating that the film is based on real events.

It's been reported that the film is about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight...

Yes, but that's incorrect. I had a Portuguese journalist call me yesterday to ask 'What's the link with MH370?' I think it's in poor taste, but there was a film company trying to raise money in Cannes to make a film about the Malaysian plane. Somehow, somebody thought ours was along those lines as we have the tagline 'What happened on flight 313?' I can see why there might be confusion but we finished filming long before the plane disappeared.

Give us a brief outline of the plot...

The central character is Helen, played by Georgina Sutcliffe, and her background is as a high-profile investigative journalist working overseas. She goes to work at a local paper, where she uncovers a lot of what the press are uncovering today about the contaminated air issue, and that millions of dollars have changed hands in return for
silence. The film is based on real events.

Am I in danger, being sat here with you?

Funnily enough, a Russian reporter came up to me and said 'Aren't you worried you're going to be assassinated?'

I've not heard of Georgina Sutcliffe...

She came out of RADA as head girl but when she married Sean Bean, for a time she didn't do much acting. After they split, she did some theatre work in London and then somebody told me 'If you want an incredible actress who hasn't done much, contact Georgina'. She is an amazing woman, and exactly what you see in the film. Georgina was a great find, but all of the cast are incredible. You're only as good as the team around you. It is a first film for the Director of Photography, Nicholas Eriksson, but he is an outstanding talent.

Are you pleased with the film?

I think this is a great film for the resources we have. For what we had, you'd have been hard pressed to have done a better job. We had about 1,000 people working on this film, with Prague and Macedonian Symphony Orchestras, Shepperton Studios helping with design, and the visual effects were all donated. A lot of people wanted to make a difference once they had been made aware of the issue, and that's priceless. People know it's not a typical horror film; it's a film that will change air travel.

What happens next then?

We've tweaked the film many times, shown it to the industry and polished it because of their comments. We keep fine tuning it and we believe it's infinitely better for it. Now, we have to appoint a sales company and if we can find a little investment hopefully we'll have a VIP screening in Horsham to say thanks to all the people who have helped. It would be nice if everyone who contributed in the co-operative could be paid too, but it's a long term thing as a film will sell for ten to fifteen years.

Is A Dark Reflection make or break for Fact Not Fiction Films?

No, it's not. We're already looking at our next film, called Little Eva. It's about a plane crash during the war, and how one man survives in the Australian outback. It's a true story – we're Fact Not Fiction Films!

http://www.adarkreflection.com/

Georgina Sutcliffe takes the lead role
Rupert Holliday-Evans in A Dark Reflection
Scenes from A Dark Reflection
Scenes from A Dark Reflection

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