Last night I caught an advance screening of a new documentary, “Revenge of the Electric Car.” It’s by the same director who did “Who Killed The Electric Car?” except this story ends in triumph instead of tragedy.
Shot with luscious gloss and verve, the film follows four men trying to be the first to the finish line with a viable electric car: Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, and Greg “Gadget” Abbot, a DIY inventor.
The movie is directed by Chris Paine, whose 2006 activist film “Who Killed The Electric Car” showed how corporate and special interests conspired to destroy the nascent electric car industry. Back then, they even revoked the leases on electric cars that were already on the road, seizing back the cars and scrapping them despite the lessees really wanting to keep driving them. This time around, some of the old villains have returned as unlikely paladins, trying to make a viable product for a new time where electric cars are no longer a quirky experiment, but an economic and environmental necessity.
Navigating the “spin machines” of each of these companies was a challenge, said director Chris Paine in a Q&A after the screening. “There were times where would shoot for three days but it wouldn’t go into the film because it turned out to be a PR stunt,” he said. “We had to be very careful, we made sure that we were setting the shooting dates, not them.”
Besides the struggles of overcoming production woes, fighting off the press and self-doubt, and the recession, the film also shows these men, each a giant in his own way, in smaller moments. Elon Musk’s face twitches with stress after he’s just explained to a meeting of would-be owners who had put down deposits how he’s raising the price on a car he had still so far failed to deliver. To the camera he admits that it was a “bait and switch.” In quasi-retirement, the cigar-smoking Bob Lutz frets over what animal is eating the cygnets of the two swans in his pond. He and his wife take a zip on their Segways around a pathway on the rolling and wooded lawn of his estate, resplendent in their tan pants and fitted sweaters. All this occurs against a backdrop of car manufacturers begging for a loan from Washington, the US becoming a shareholder in GM, and fears about the future of manufacturing, of any kind, in America.
“I don’t know it will play with Zuccotti Park,” said Chris Paine. “It’s a story about innovation and struggle…These guys are heroes. Heroes I wouldn’t have normally chosen.”
Jalopnik’s Ray Wert, one of the experts who appears in the movie, added that the film shows that “corporations are not these monoliths. Corporations can sometimes do good things… ultimately it’s about people.”
And by the end, each one of those people has overcome adversity. Their companies are solvent. They’re producing electric cars. Consumers are buying them. It seems that after getting stuffed into an early grave, the electric car is back from the dead.
The film opens October 21 in New York and Los Angeles.
Revenge Of The Electric Car [Official Site]