Interview: Andre Borschberg of “Planet Power” and Solar Impulse

Posted on March 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm

“Planet Power,” is a stunning documentary about the round-the-world flight of the Solar Impulse, the first-ever plane completely powered by sunlight to circle the globe. It is now in IMAX theaters across the country. It was developed and piloted by two Frenchmen, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard.

What did you learn about the world by flying over it that way that you didn’t know before?

Lots of things! But first of all it’s an incredible experience when you look about the airplane and you see the sun and you see the sun rays and then you start thinking that these rays and this radiation is sufficient to make the airplane fly, to climb and fly through the night. It’s absolutely incredible. Normally you always have an eye on the fuel gauge and then you know you only have a few minutes to go and then you have to land. So to think that you have an indefinite unlimited endurance, it’s a totally different world. Of course the entire project was incredible in the sense that we were told by the aviation industry that to build such an airplane was not possible. We were convinced on our side that there was a solution so we decided to do it ourselves. These fifteen years were a sequence of hurdles, of success, of difficulties and all this done with a fantastic team; so it’s a life experience.

I imagine that it was very quiet there because you didn’t have the humming of the engines. Is that right?

It is. If you have a chance to fly in an electric airplane, you will see how quiet it is because you don’t hear much, there’s no vibration. It’s like being in a glider which suddenly can climb like a normal plane. And in this plane I was alone. We will have a two-seater flying this summer in Switzerland and my goal is really to take lots of people in this airplane just to see the difference. The experience is something else.

One of the things that really captured my attention in the movie was that while a passenger plane can tip to a degree of 30 degrees this plane because of the size of its wings was much more limited. Did that make it difficult to maneuver?

What was tricky was the sensitivity of the airplane towards turbulence and this is why we also always try to take off very early and land late at night so we’re away from the turbulences created by the sun during the day. So that is certainly one characteristic of the airplane. On the other side, as I said, we have this freedom to be away from the clock and having the possibility if necessary to be one more day in the air when I flew across the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii, we thought it would take 5 days than have taken 6; I would say even so much the better because of the incredible experience but to have this feeling of no limit on the energy, of course, it’s a major plus.

The movie explains that you come from a family with a history of innovation. What did they do to influence you to become an innovator yourself?

When I was a really young kid I was taken by the books I read about the aviation pioneers, about what they did, about their lives, about the way they went about trying, exploring, building something that nobody did and then flying without having been coached by a flight instructor on how to do that. For me this created a strong dream and appeal in fact to be part of this world as well; so when I met in fact Bertrand a few years later, it was like getting into this world I’ve been dreaming about when I was a young boy.

Tell me a little bit about more about the partnership with Mr. Piccard, what is it that each of you contribute to that partnership?

Bertrand and I basically had different educations; we have different backgrounds and skills and at the end we were extremely complementary as a partnership through these differences. It’s one plus one equals three; one for each and one when we’re together. In that sense we are truly different but we understood that this difference was a source of creativity so very early we gave up basically the tendency to argue and to try to defend own ideas and we were more interested when we were not having basically the same understanding of a situation. I think we were always interested to understand what the other was thinking, knowing that at the end the solutions would be neither his solution nor mine. So regularly once every two weeks, once every month we would sit down and expose our feelings to the other one to try to find a common ground. We had a clear understanding that it’s only by sticking together that we could have a chance to succeed.

What of the innovations in the plane do you think will be most useful to consumers?

I think very simply electric propulsion. It is not just that solar energy is renewable. It is also much more efficient than a combustion engine. If you take your car, two liters or two gallons out of three that you put in the tank are lost for heat so it’s a totally inefficient technology. With electric propulsion we’ve changed the world of aviation for a lot of reasons but it will make aviation quieter, cleaner, safer and more affordable and you can use it not only for propulsion but also to stabilize the airplane. There are few moving parts, it’s only software, it’s only electronics, which are (things we know how to produce very cheaply and very safe today, so you can start imagining that you will have new ways to transport people, for example from one side of Los Angeles to the other side. There are many projects aiming in fact to provide this added value that will all use electric propulsion. I didn’t want basically to do a commercial project after flying around the world but I couldn’t resist to continue and develop this technology because I think it will be a game changer.

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Documentary Interview

John Hanlon Interviews the Producer of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Posted on March 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Copyright Disney 2018
My friend and fellow critic John Hanlon spoke to Catherine Hand, who decided when she read A Wrinkle in Time at age 10 that she wanted to make it into a movie and has devoted her life to that one goal. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the story is that she actually did get the movie made once, for television, which everyone agreed was inadequate, and true to the spirit of the book, she did not give up. She produced the new version directed by Ava Duvernay as well. Here’s a look at the earlier version:

You’ve been working to adapt this novel for the big screen for a long time. What was the greatest challenge you faced?

I’ve been asked that question and there’s so many different answers but I will tell you A Wrinkle in Time is the quintessential heroine’s journey — which is different than a hero’s journey — and the industry was just not as open to telling that story. It was really when a whole new generation of executive producers, writers, directors rose up and the book —while it may have seemed daunting for many years for a lot of people — I think this new generation of creative individuals in the industry embraced it and I think that at the end of the day, it’s so much about timing and I think as you said earlier its themes are universal and timeless.

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Behind the Scenes Books Interview

Interview: Armando Iannucci of “The Death of Stalin”

Posted on March 15, 2018 at 2:29 pm

“The Death of Stalin,” based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury, is a scorching satire about the flurry for succession following the unexpected totalitarian leader of the Soviet Union. For rogerebert.com I spoke to co-writer/director Armando Iannuci about the parallels between this film and his HBO series, “Veep,” about the accents of this actors and the only one to change his accent to suit the character, and about what the movie has to say about today’s politics.

Do you see the story as something like “Veep” with guns? I get the feeling that if the characters in “Veep” had the chance to kill people, they would.

You might think that at the start, but once there’s a threat of being killed, it just turns into something else. The comedy is more based in paranoia, craziness. In “Veep,” the characters’ biggest worry is being found out. The worst that can happen to you is maybe they will be embarrassed or you may lose your job and go into lobbying. It’s temporary. But for these characters it is “if you are found out, you will be dead,” and it turns them into gibbering, frozen with fear, paranoiacs, every one of them. It turns them into stories that are timeless like ancient Rome or Shakespeare’s history plays or “Game of Thrones” or “The Godfather.” It’s the war for succession, kill or be killed. You have characters who tell themselves, “I’m good, but I may have to kill people so that my goodness can survive.”

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Directors Directors Interview

The Looming Tower Explores the FBI and CIA Before 9/11

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 10:32 pm

Hulu’s new series, “The Looming Tower,” is based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction book about the US intelligence agencies in the years before 9/11. His focus is on the rivalry between the heads of the FBI and CIA operations investigating Osama Bin Laden and the rise of Al-Qaeda and how their unwillingness to share information made it impossible to prevent the attack. In the series, adapted by “Capote” screenwriter Dan Futterman, Peter Sarsgaard plays CIA Analyst Martin Schmidt, a fictionalized character, and Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism operation, who was killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center.

I interviewed Wright and the actors. On Rogerebert.com, my interview with Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, and Wright talked about the personal and professional animosity that kept the investigators from cooperating and why now could be the time for a deeper look at what happened.

For the MPAA site The Credits, I talked to the actors, including Tahar Rahim and Wrenn Schmidt about the characters they play.

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Actors Interview VOD and Streaming

Black Panther: Behind the Scenes

Posted on February 20, 2018 at 8:25 pm

I was lucky enough to be able to interview “Black Panther” co-writer/director Ryan Coogler for rogerebert.com.

The movie places an African and an African-American in opposition. “I’m an African-American male born in the 1980’s in Oakland,” he said, “and there’s a dynamic between being African and African-American that’s very interesting.” This is a key element he explored in the film, with African characters from the fictional country of Wakanda, which has never been colonized or even had any trade relationships with western countries, and African-American characters, who reflect the stress of living in a country still confronting racial divides.

“The question for me is what does it mean to be African? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since I first knew I was black, since my parents sat me down and said, ‘You’re black and that’s what this means. You’ve got to navigate the world in a certain way.’ That’s the conversation every person has had to have because of the way the world works. If you don’t have that understanding you could be in a situation that costs you your life,” as Coogler’s first film, the fact-based “Fruitvale Station,” showed. “Nobody who was telling me what being African means had ever been there. My parents had never been, my grandmother had never been.” So it was essential for him to spend time in Africa, researching the cultures that Wakanda would represent.

“The African culture the world knows best is the African-American culture,” he said, citing the worldwide dominance of hip-hop. But working on the film and spending time in Africa helped him realize that the African culture he thought was erased by bringing Africans to the United States as slaves was much more intact than he thought. “I grew up thinking the African culture had been taken away from us, that it was lost. But the truth is, we didn’t. We hung onto it.”

And as the mother of a costume designer, I was especially excited to speak to Ruth Carter, whose costumes play such an essential role in the film. She talked about the African inspirations for the traditional tribal attire of the Wakandans, and the way African patterns are even reflected in the iconic superhero suit.

Actual African fabric as we know it is Dutch and Dutch-inspired and brought to Africa. Africa liked it and adopted it so all of their African fabrics come from Holland or from China. Wakanda was never colonized, so I didn’t want to use them. Every time I started to use the African fabrics I felt like it was not this movie so I created my own fabrics, based on the sacred geometry of African art. Usually it’s a checkerboard or it’s pyramid shapes or it’s striations of horizontal and vertical strikings so I use that and we created prints. Lupita’s green dress in the casino is one print that we created based on the Nigerian kente cloth. We just extracted the line work and we printed the fabric the same way we printed T’Challa’s superhero suit.

Once I get the illustration of the super suit I can’t change it; I can’t give him a Shaft coat, all of a sudden. I have to stay within those confines because they have already been working with merchandisers and all kinds of other people. The one thing that I did do which was my contribution was the Okavango pattern, a triangle shape.

That fabric is completely made up. The triangle is definitely a big part of African artistry. It’s a mystery within the African culture what that triangle shape actually means and everybody has their own theory. So the panther suit was printed with that triangle shape all over it so that when you’re looking at it, it’s this superhero suit that has this Wakandan language traveling through it; veining throughout it, and you also see an Okavango pattern and which makes it feel like he’s in the place of Wakanda, he’s in Africa and he’s an African king and gives it texture.

Vanity Fair posted a scene analysis with Coogler explaining what was going on in one of the film’s striking action sequences.

More commentary about this brilliant, groundbreaking new film coming soon.

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Directors Directors Interview Race and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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