Everybody Flies

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Everybody Flies
"For the most part this is a calm and sober documentary but there are moments when it plays more like a thriller."

Tristan Loraine, a marathon runner and triathlete, fell in love with flying at the age of 17, giving up on his career as a pilot (and switching to film directing) only when he was ordered to do so for health reasons. Numerous doctors told him that they suspected his health problems were triggered by inhaled pollutants and he has been trying to draw attention to the issue ever since, beginning with the 2007 documentary Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines. His latest work, which screened at Raindance 2019, is a thorough investigation into the problem as he sees it, with testimony from numerous other people who believe they have been affected - and have some pretty impressive evidence to back it up.

The pollutant with which this film is most concerned is tricresyl phosphate (TCP), which is present in the oil used in jet engines and can leak into cabin air supplies in the absence of filtering which, though once present on almost every aircraft, is rarely used these days. This isn't something that's necessarily going to happen all the time - it requires something else to go wrong - but part of the concern here is that whilst dramatic incidents with an obvious effect on passengers and crew are rare, minor ones may be happening all the time without anyone much noticing, with cumulative damage occurring to those exposed. The film interviews former airline staff who suffer from a baffling range of ailments which may be connected to this, along with passengers who have been caught up in events so severe that they were lucky to escape with their lives. There's also a brief consideration of the relationship between these stories and what has happened to farmers exposed to organophosphates in the course of their work.

The film's title is clearly chosen to stress the enormity of the issues at hand but it is, of course, incorrect: there are all sorts of people who don't fly for all sorts of reasons and this points to an obvious angle for research that might shed more light on the matter. How do toxins levels in their blood compare to, say, those who fly four times and year to go on holiday and those who fly twice a week in the course of their work? If such data is available, we don't get access to it, but what Loraine does present us with is a study of pilots which will send a shudder down your spine. The shorter term effect experienced by some pilots are also chilling. One describes how he was spiralling down over Malmö when he suddenly became aware of the presence of fumes in the cabin and the fact that he could barely move his arms. For the most part this is a calm and sober documentary but there are moments when it plays more like a thriller.

Notably absent from the film is any major response from the organisations that stand accused, but there's not much of that elsewhere either. The impression one gets is that they have decided that the best way to deal with Loraine's claims is to ignore them and thus avoid generating any more bad publicity. They may also hope that he won't be taken seriously, which is presumably why this film includes a short segment about the British Citizen Award he received in 2015 for services to industry, proving that he's not just a crank with a conspiracy theory. He's also found some industry figures to back him up and he uses physical pieces of evidence to separate interview scenes, pointing to the thick black residue lining a piece of pipe in one. It could be anything really but the effect of what we see, like that of the poison itself, is cumulative.

Densely packed with information and a lot more involving than you might expect, Everybody Flies has a powerful message and one that might change the way you think about your own travel plans.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2019
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An investigation into the quality of air breathed by passengers and crew on most aeroplanes.

Director: Tristan Loraine, Beth Moran

Writer: Tristan Loraine, Beth Moran

Year: 2019

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: UK, US

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