The first film, Who Killed the Electric Car?, seemed to place blame squarely on the shoulders of GM for rounding up and crushing its first electric production car, the EV1. But then, almost a decade later, things started to change. General Motors promised an extended-range hybrid with all-electric capabilities called the Volt. Nissan was hard at work behind the scenes creating a hybrid killer, and Tesla boasted it could beat the entire auto industry at its own game, creating a 100-mile-range electric sports car with incredible performance and looks. Chris Paine followed these developments toward the new dawn of the electric car, and also documented the grass roots efforts of shops that were building a new market for custom retrofitted electric cars.
Inhabitat: Chris, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You’re best known for your movies Who Killed the Electric Car, and now Revenge of the Electric Car. Can you tell us how you decided to pursue these subjects?
Chris Paine: I went on a test drive of a modern electric car in 1996 and it blew my mind. It was wicked fast, sounded like a something from the 21st century, and handled like a dream. Turns out it was from the 21st century because about 5,000 of them were all rounded up and destroyed because no one was interested. Turns out that wasn’t quite the story. My first film made a murder mystery out of what happened–and how governments fail to beat back powerful corporate vested interests, regulate effectively, and give in to monopolies. Our characters rose up from outside the system and tried to deduce what happened. My second film is about revolution from within the system and led by very different kinds of leaders. What they share is a willingness to take huge risks, reinvent their industries to revitalize this country and use innovation and capital markets to create jobs and products that will help free us from foreign controlled fossil fuels, instead of simply gaming the system for private wealth.
Inhabitat: Automakers are incredibly protective of their secrets and new products in development. Did you run into any challenges trying to go behind the scenes to film Revenge of the Electric Car?
Chris Paine: Yes, we made a deal not to release any footage from the film until 2011 when car companies had first forecast that the cars would actually arrive to market. We had savaged the car industry in the first film, but we did it accurately and I think gained respect. We did not get access to all the car companies: many turned us down, but the four we got were really indicative of different parts of the car industry and some of its top leadership. We also worked very carefully to separate our story from PR or spin.
Inhabitat: In Revenge of the Electric Car, you discover that one of the many Tesla Roadsters waiting to have a defect fixed before it goes out is the one you pre-ordered. How was it to film your own vehicle as part of this movie about the challenges facing companies bringing electric vehicles to market, and to discover that your Tesla actually had a quite serious problem?
Chris Paine: I hadn’t wanted to be in the film and I think this is perhaps my only on-camera moment. I was shocked that the car we had happened to find in the assembly room had my VIN# on it and such a serious issue. Elon delivers perhaps the best line in the film when he realizes it’s my car.
Inhabitat: Did you find yourself rooting for one of the major players in this film as you saw their strategy unfold?
Chris Paine: Absolutely. I want people everywhere to be at least able to try driving a plug-in car. Right now it’s all theories and talk shows. The insiders we profiled suffered through so many challenges and on dark days I really worried that they’d ever get to market. Now is the time for folks to test drive them. Many, not all, will be transformed.
Inhabitat: What’s next? Will you follow the EV market as it develops, or do you have another project in the works?
Chris Paine: I will always follow the electric car market. Whether that becomes a film is a question for a few years from now. Mostly, I’m in early stages looking for financial backers who believe in me for my next film project.
Inhabitat: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, and congratulations on the upcoming premiere of your new film.
Revenge of the Electric Car debuts in the U.S. on October 21st in select theaters. To check out showtimes or request a screening in your town, click the link below for more information. ‘