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Circling the Airfield: Why Stony Brook Film Festival Booked Plane Crash Doc 'TWA Flight 800'

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood June 29, 2013 at 11:00AM

The Stony Brook Film Festival in New York (July 18-27) is the quintessential local movie event. Its director, Alan Inkles, sells out all his screenings, every year, because he knows exactly who his audience is, what it likes and where it lives. Which is why "TWA Flight 800" was a no-brainer: The site where the flight in question went down -- or was shot down -- is not so many miles from the state university where his festival takes place.
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'TWA Flight 800'
'TWA Flight 800'

The Stony Brook Film Festival in New York (July 18-27) is the quintessential local movie event. Its director, Alan Inkles, sells out all his screenings, every year, because he knows exactly who his audience is, what it likes and where it lives. Which is why "TWA Flight 800" was a no-brainer: The site where the flight in question went down -- or was shot down -- is not so many miles from the state university where his festival takes place.


TWA Flight 800

But once Inkles booked the film's "world premiere" for July 20, stuff, as we like to call it, started happening. EPIX ("Flight 800" is an "Epix Original Documentary"), decided it wanted to air the film on the anniversary of the disaster and asked Inkles to move his screening to the 15th. "Which would have been great," Inkles said, "except that my festival starts the 17th." Then, he said, the film appeared on the screening schedule of another local art cinema -- also pre-dating his screening. "I said, 'c'mon!' I understand that EPIX wants to show the film first, but I was selling it as a world premiere and I'm looking like a liar."

The screenings got straightened out, although EPIX will still air it July 17 and Inkles now has the film’s "festival premiere." But if things seems confused, it's nothing compared to what's revealed in the film, which was directed by journalist Kristina Borjesson with the help of physicist Tom Stalcup, who has been pursuing his own investigation into the case -- and filing Freedom of Information Act requests -- almost since the crash occurred. It was in July of 1996 that Flight 800, headed for Paris, went down into the Atlantic near Fire Island (where the memorial sits today) after what many, many witnesses reported was something that looked like a missile going up, and Flight 800 coming down. The FBI's treatment of the case -- and its boxing out of NTSB investigators (several of whom cry foul in the film) -- certainly points to some kind of coverup. 

"I'm Switzerland," said Inkles, meaning he had no opinion on the veracity of the film. "I also work for a state university, so officially I have no opinion, but I certainly wanted to show the film." And he will, on July 20, in an area where very few people get EPIX but everyone knows about Flight 800. 

This article is related to: Stony Brook Film Festival, TWA Flight 800


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.