Note: This interview originally ran as part of our TFF 2011 Faces of the Festival series. Revenge of the Electric Car opens this Friday (October 21) at Landmark Sunshine in NY and Landmark Nuart in LA, with a national release to follow. Request a screening in your area!
Five years after Chris Paine’s documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? hit screens, the director is back with another behind-the-scenes look at the car industry: Revenge of the Electric Car. This character-driven film showcases three of the major players touting the electric car renaissance: Bob Lutz of GM, Carlos Ghosn of Nissan/Renault, and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley-based startup. (Another colorful character, an electric car DIYer by the name of Greg “Gadget” Abbott, also figures in the film.)
Over three years, Paine chronicles the ups and downs of these entrepreneurs who struggle—both inside and outside the carmaker system—to bring this new technology to the masses. Revenge of the Electric Car is making its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Tribeca: What inspired you to develop a follow-up to your other film?
Chris Paine: I didn’t think it was a full story. We saw electric cars starting to make a comeback, and people were beginning to look forward, to see electric cars as part of the future. I see it as a bookend with the previous movie: showing how things can change, and let’s see if the electric car can prevail.
Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?
Chris Paine: With documentaries, you don’t know what’s going to happen; it can be a wonderful risk. For this film, I was surprised that people were giving us such access… letting us go behind closed doors and trusting me not to let things get out. Especially with GM, once they realized I wasn’t doing a ‘gotcha’ movie, they began to trust us—that was a big surprise given how the company fared in Who Killed the Electric Car?
Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Revenge of the Electric Car?
Chris Paine: I ended up liking all the people more than I expected. There are four very colorful characters in the film… one is Bob [Lutz of GM], who is not my kind of guy. He’s a cigar-smoking, Hummer-building guy. But I ended up liking Bob a lot more than I thought I would. If change can happen with guys like Bob in those kinds of institutions like GM, that means you should never count anybody out.
Tribeca: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers, particularly documentarians?
Chris Paine: Get a good team together to work with. None of my projects would have been possible without a good team. I don’t work well by myself; I don’t have that Truffaut ‘auteur’ theory. Filmmaking to me is community experience, from the filming to the music to the editing... it’s how I pull it together.
Tribeca: What are your hopes for Revenge of the Electric Car at Tribeca? What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Chris Paine: For filmmakers, to realize that passion about a subject is important when it comes to making documentaries. The money isn’t going to be there, the economics are very difficult.
For audiences, the big takeaway is that this is a huge chance for the world to break its fossil-fuel addiction. The carmakers are stepping up and making electric cars. Now the consumer needs to take on a new kind of car that they might feel nervous about. The future will be delayed if people don’t become inspired to try a world with renewable electricity.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?
Chris Paine: Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest. Who doesn’t love Spinal Tap? Documentaries at the end of day are entertainment… we want to be entertaining people.
Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?
Chris Paine: I’m watching Mad Men… I know, I’m the last guy to watch it. I love the writing. I love the characters: no one is wholly a villain or hero. And the period stuff is fantastic. I’d also recommend the Bill Bryson book A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?
Chris Paine: Where Are My Keys?
Tribeca: What makes Revenge of the Electric Car a Tribeca must-see?
Chris Paine: There are not many major industrial revolutions. The age of the electric car is one of them.
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