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In 1996, General Motors released the EV1, a revolutionary electric car requiring no gas, no oil and little maintenance. A group of environmentally minded Californians - among them former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul and Mel Gibson - began driving them throughout the smog-ridden state. The noiseless, fumeless cars proved a hit with their owners, but with few others. By 2006, not a single electric vehicle could be found on the California roads. The cars had been recalled, sales deemed unsatisfactory and the limited infrastructure put in place to accommodate them was removed. Former EV1 owner Chris Paine asks why, how and who was responsible for the death of the electric car.

Review by Joel Meares:
After an interesting opening showing some pre-1920s electric vehicles, a brief interview with comic Phyllis Diller sets the tone of Who Killed the Electric Car? Phyllis, her hair gussied up, centering the frame in a colourful striped top and neck scarf, is cute, endearing and quite funny. She's there because she remembers those old cars. After watching Paine's documentary, we remember Phyllis. And we remember Peter Horton, a quirky, grinning EV1 owner who gets to hold on to his car longer than anyone else. And Chelsea Sexton, who worked on GM's EV1 program before bravely joining the campaign that was needed to save it. Paine's documentary is less a detailed political study than an invitation to a relaxed chat with a group of charming, eccentric and likeminded friends.

This both works for the film and against it. On the one hand, Paine's decision to focus on the quiet activists trying to figure out why the EV1 was recalled, lends it a parochial charm. Sexton's company is particularly appreciated, her determination and assessments of her former employer's treatment of its customers is insightful and damning, and her smile pure delight. Paine moves with the car owners as they hold vigils outside GM and one truly feels as if participating. He clearly has a great rapport with those he interviews, and this, combined with his grassroots participation lends to a feeling of audience involvement.

On the other hand, the activists are a little twee to deliver any serious drama. The focus seems to be the car and its lovers with less regard for the environmental situation necessitating its invention. The early sections of the film, in which the usual global warming statistics and footage of hurricanes and LA skies are trotted out, seem decorous rather than central. These images and information rush by in a race to get to the rather fetishised object of the EV1. The film eschews a deeper analysis of the environmental situation, and offers a suspect lack of information on possible environmental outcomes of increased electricity usage, in favour of a kitschy electro auto obsession. Had the environmental stakes been set higher, in greater detail, and remained centre stage, the film might have been more compelling. As it stands, a film in which a car is literally eulogised is merely cute.

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(US, 2006)

CAST: Documentary with Phyllis Diller, Colette Divine, David Freeman, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Peter Horton, Huell Howser, Alexandra Paul, Paul Scott, Bob Sexton

PRODUCER: Jessie Deeter

DIRECTOR: Chris Paine

SCRIPT: Chris Paine

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Thaddeus Wadleigh

EDITOR: Michael Kovalenko, Chris A. Peterson

MUSIC: Michael Brook

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 2, 2006

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