Rory Kennedy Makes Persuasive ‘Case Against Boeing’ With Sundance Doc

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In “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” director Rory Kennedy investigates two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that occurred within five months of each other in 2018 and 2019 that killed a combined 346 people. Guided by aviation experts, news journalists, former Boeing employees, the U.S. Congress and the families of victims, Kennedy’s Netflix doc reveals a culture of reckless cost-cutting and corporate concealment driven by Wall Street greed. This is Kennedy’s sixth time attending Sundance with a film.

You teamed with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s production house Imagine Entertainment on this project. Did they bring this project to you or was this film your idea?

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It was my idea. I had been following the story and was I interested in it for a whole range of reasons, so just before the pandemic I decided to make it.

What interested you about the topic?

Well, we all fly, right? When we book our plane tickets, when we walk down the tarmac to get on the plane and when we are on that plane, we are trusting that these corporations, airlines, manufacturers, Congress and the regulatory agencies are looking out for us. This film really shows us that that doesn’t always happen and that we have to make those demands.

You used CGI to re-create the two Boeing flight crash sequences. Is this the first time you used CGI in a doc and if so, did it prove challenging?

Yes. This is the first film I’ve used it in. It was an interesting challenge ensuring that you’re getting everything right in terms of the angle of the plane and where the sun was [at the time of the crash]. I wanted it to feel realistic, but of course, make it clear to the audience if this isn’t real. That it’s being manufactured.

In September Frontline released “Boeing’s Fatal Flaw,” a documentary about the same topic. Was that a setback in any way?

The subject is so important that it lends itself to different kinds of storytelling and ways to approach it. For me, it was important to tell the story through the perspective of the people who were really on the front lines. So we didn’t really focus on historians or even journalists who weren’t directly involved with the story. Having those firsthand accounts and using the firsthand source documents to tell the story, without a narrator, was the way that I felt the audience could best access it and be pulled into it.

The project was originally intended to be a series. What made you want to make it a one-off instead?

Honestly, I think it does lend itself to a series as well, because there’s so much history and depth to this story but ultimately, I felt that the best way to tell this story was through a 90-minute structure where you could really condense the timeline and pull people in and keep them with you.

What are you hoping audiences take away after watching this film?

For me this film is about corporate malfeasance. It’s about focusing on finances over public safety. Frankly, it’s not just about Boeing. I think there needs to be an appropriate balance between corporate and financial interest and the public interest. We have lost that balance in many instances, and I think it’s imperative that we regain that.

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