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American 965 documentary film review

★★★

Directed by: Tristan Loraine

Written by: Tristan Loraine


 

A blueprint of a Boeing 757 aeroplane is pictured beneath the film's title with the left engine circled.
Film poster for American 965

On 20th December 1995, American Airlines flight 965 came down in the mountains near Buga, Colombia during what was supposed to be a routine flight from Miami to Cali. The Boeing 757 aircraft crashed killing all eight crew members and leaving only four survivors out of the 155 passengers on board. A dog, flying in the hold, also survived. At the time air crash investigators from the NTSB (National Transport Safety Board), a supposedly independent American federal agency, concluded that the disaster was due to technical and pilot error. This conclusion, however, did not sit right with many in the industry, nor those who knew the pilots personally, as they were held to be some of the most experienced and professional pilots in the business. Tristan Loraine, a former British Airways pilot with many years experience, and who had flown the same Boeing 757 model, also knew that something didn’t add up. So now, in his new career as a film-maker, Loraine has decided to investigate the crash personally and share his results in his newly released documentary, American 965.


In what has become something of a crusade for Loraine, he has exposed the shortcomings of the aviation industry through his production banner, Fact Not Fiction Films, having already released Welcome To Toxic Airlines in 2007 and Everybody Flies in 2019, highlighting the frightening issue of contaminated air being pumped into the cabin and flight deck via the engines. Loraine considers American 965 to be something of a prequel to his previously released film, focusing as it does more on an isolated case study before extrapolating further out into his broader subject.


The film begins with information and news reel about the crash before moving onto an emotional interview with two of the only survivors, Gonzalo Dussan and his daughter Michelle, who was only six years old at the time of the crash. This personal aspect is where the film really shines, and while it is interesting and informative to hear the many aviation experts speak to their truth of the situation, none of it has the same emotional resonance as what Gonzalo and Michelle reveal.


Loraine does an excellent job of piecing the puzzle together and presenting his findings to the audience. It is obvious that he has done exhaustive research and is passionate about his cause, although the parts of the film where he is on-screen conducting interviews or providing voice-overs tend to be the weakest. The real meat of the story inevitably comes from the data sets themselves and the documentation provided (or left strangely absent) by the aviation industry. An altogether new 3D aerial model of the crash also provides some startlingly real context to the disaster that it seems to defy belief there had never been any attempt to recreate such a model in all the intervening years.


In trying to get to the answers of why American Airlines flight 965 really went down, Loraine is also laying the groundwork for his bigger reveal – that air travel is far more dangerous than any of us realise. The revelation that air circulated in the cabin and cockpit is bled from the engines is something that is likely to shock everyone, and this is before we find out that any engine which has a leak will then contaminate the air, making everyone on board sick and incapacitating the cognitive motor functions of everyone on the plane, including the flight crew. Loraine is convinced this is what happened on flight 965 and is trying to get the word out on an issue the aviation industry – especially the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) – has known about yet refused to acknowledge for over fifty years.


American 965 stands then somewhere between Sully (2016), Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006) and Thank You For Smoking (2005) as an expose of just how much big business, governmental agencies and capitalist society in general are pulling the wool over our eyes and deciding to look the other way, so that they can blame individuals for any failings and shirk any costly responsibilities that might arise in their sector. It rightly takes its place amongst these films as an eye-opening reveal on the structure of a major part of our society but never reaches the heights of film-making that these others do. It is interesting and informative in its area but never reaches beyond the boundaries of what it is trying to show. At times it can feel like an extended news article on Channel 4, with quotations from blurred out documents and a rigorous read through of the legalese the companies hide behind. Thankfully, this also allows us to see the integrity of the film and the film-makers and ultimately decide for ourselves just how much we really want to think about it the next time we hop on a cheap flight to the Costa del Sol.

 

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