Most people don’t think twice about hopping on an airplane. But Netflix’s documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing could make you a little more cautious about your next commercial flight.
Director Rory Kennedy is a guest on the latest episode of the Factual America podcast about the Netflix documentary, which is unfortunately timely: News broke this week that a Boeing 737-800 aircraft being operated by the airline China Eastern crashed on a mountainside in China’s Guangxi region on Monday, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew members on board. The cause of the crash is still unknown, according to the Associated Press, but it’s an eerie reminder of the two fallen Boeing 737 Max aircraft at the heart of Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.
Reps for Boeing did not immediately respond to MovieMaker‘s request for comment.
“These were two airplanes — same model of aircraft, the 737 Max — which crashed within five months of each other in 2018 and 2019, and 346 people died, everybody on board both of those aircraft,” Kennedy said. “The film is really an investigation as to what happened, exactly. Who knew what, when; who was responsible for these crashes, with the hopes that we can prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
“Boeing was in competition with Airbus. Airbus had come out with an aircraft that was very popular and was doing quite well in the marketplace. They had a vision, initially, to create a whole new type of airplane. But they wanted to get something to market quickly to compete with Airbus. And they basically repurposed a 50-year-old airframe, a 737 that was built in the 1960s. They put on new engines which were bigger and more fuel-efficient. They found when they did that, that under certain circumstances, the airplane would stall and wouldn’t work properly. And so, instead of rebuilding the aircraft, they decided they could fix it with a computer system,” Kennedy explained.
“That computer system is known as the MCAS. It’s connected to one sensor on the outside of the airplane. And if that sensor sensed that the airplane was going at a certain angle, it would push the nose of the plane downwards. But in both of these instances, that sensor was sending bad, erroneous, information to the MCAS system. And so, even though it was not at a steep incline, it was pushing the nose of the airplane down, and doing it over and over again. And overpowering anything, ultimately, that the pilots could do about it.”
He says what makes his documentary stand apart is that commercial air travel is so common — yet so dangerous if it goes wrong.
“I think most of us fly, right? …Even for the brave and courageous amongst us, there is something odd about flying through the air at 500 miles an hour in this kind of metal object at 30,000 feet high. And so, I think, somewhere in us, certainly for me, there’s some fear of flying, right? It’s also imagining the worst, that it’s a horrendous way to think of those last few moments of anybody’s life to be in an airplane that is on a downward spiral. So, I think it’s kind of something that we can all relate to, on some level, and some part of us all imagine that.
“For me, and I think for most when you walk down that jetway, you think the people who made this plane are looking out for our safety… the regulators, the FAA, is doing everything they can do to protect us, that the Congress and the people we’ve elected are doing their job to make sure that the regulators are empowered to do their job. And in this case, they all failed us. And so, I think that there’s a lot to be learned from — the need to ask questions, to be vigorous, to make demands for all of us to ensure that these protections hold.”
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is now streaming on Netflix. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview with Kennedy:
00:00 – Lack of remorse: a clip from Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.
02:40 – What the documentary is about.
03:55 – What caused the Boeing plane to mechanically fail.
05:52 – The unique aspects of Boeing’s corporate greed.
08:26 – Why Rory decided to make a film about the crashes.
10:43 – The unique aspect of the story Rory portrays in her film.
14:04 – How Michael Stumo’s daughter died and how he’s coped with losing her.
16:11 – The challenges of making victims relive traumatic events.
17:35 – How the FAA and Boeing covered up the risk of their planes crashing.
19:47 – Why Boeing’s management wasn’t held to account for what happened.
21:51 – The immense public outcry against what happened at Boeing.
23:13 – How much Boeing got fined for the deaths they caused.
26:00 – What Rory hopes the legacy of Downfall: The Case Against Boeing will be.
28:30 – Rory’s new film about the global refugee crisis.
34:47 – The dangers of climate change and the future of energy sources.
38:58 – Quality Manager: 2nd clip from the film Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A still from Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, courtesy of Factual America.