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Pilot Error Movie Poster, courtesy of Dewey Decimal Productions

Pilot Error

By Deborah Holdship

Former Michigan Daily editor strikes a timely chord with new film

An investigative reporter watches the breaking news in horror: A jet headed from South America to Paris has disappeared – literally vanished — over the Atlantic Ocean. The disaster hits close to home. The journalist’s friend was aboard that plane.

Michigan actors Kate Thomsen, Julia Glander, Alex Leydenfrost, and Michael Brian Ogden are featured in Pilot Error.

U-M theater student Danielle Cohn makes her screen debut in the picture, and U-M French professor Rachel Criso served as dialect coach.

The cast also includes some recognizable Hollywood actors: Richard Riehle (Office Space), Robert Cicchini (Godfather III), and Larry Herron (ABC’s ”Modern Family”).

The majority of the film was shot in Muskegon and West Michigan, but crews traveled as far as Milwaukee and Paris to lens footage. Rapoport’s crews also shot in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and used the Willow Run Airport for a number of setups.

Frustrated by her editor’s indifference to the shocking story, the reporter quits her newspaper job and embarks on an international crusade to determine how such an unfathomable catastrophe could occur in the modern age.

“We’re living in the most interconnected moment in human history, and in some ways it’s never been easier to hide the truth,” she says.

These words are at the heart of Pilot Error(Dewey Decimal Productions), an independent feature film co-written and co-produced by Muskegon-based journalist/publisher/filmmaker Roger Rapoport, AB ’68.

Much like the lead character in his movie, Rapoport investigated the real-life disappearance of Air France Flight 447, the Airbus 330 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009, killing all 228 passengers and crew. He published the nonfiction book
The Rio/Paris Crash(Lexographic Press) in 2012, exploring the delicate balance between human expertise and high-tech automation.

The book inspired the fictional screenplay for Pilot Error,co-written and directed by Joe Anderson. Executive producer Bob Goodrich, AB ’62/JD ’66, is owner of the Michigan-based theater chain Goodrich Quality Theaters Inc., which has hosted a number of screenings since the movie’s late 2014 release.

Life imitates art

Synchronicity has played a bizarre role in the movie’s own story, as the year 2014 saw two air disasters eerily similar to Rapoport’s fictional thriller: the March disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the December crash of AirAsia QZ8501.

“It really piques the curiosity about how these kinds of accidents could happen,” Rapoport says. “Audiences have so many questions because we are told aviation has never been safer. So why does this keep happening?”

To help answer those questions, Rapoport often presents post-movie talkbacks with pilots, engineers, and other aviation experts. The Q&A sessions sometimes extend longer than the 113-minute movie, he says.

Rapoport welcomes U-M organizations and alumni groups to contact him to set up screenings and Q&A sessions with aviation experts. He hopes the film will help lead to industry reforms that prevent future accidents.

Michigan man

Rapoport, a former editor at The Michigan Daily,moved to Berkeley, Calif., upon graduation and has spent much of his career as a journalist, with bylines in Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s,and Playboy, among others. He founded his own publishing imprint, RDR Books, which published more than 60 fiction and nonfiction titles. In 2007 Rapoport wrote and released the biography Citizen Moore: The Making of an American Iconoclastabout fellow Michigander Michael Moore.

In 2010 the writer transitioned to filmmaking, founding Dewey Decimal Productions to release his first movie, Waterwalk.He is now writing a novel based on Pilot Error,and is working toward his third film, a love story.

 Visit the Pilot Error website for more information on screenings, scheduling a Q&A, purchasing DVDs, and more.

Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.