December 2nd was the last day of CineCity, the Brighton Film Festival, and in an attempt to squeeze in as many films as possible before the final credits rolled, the organisers held an extra screening day at the Sallis Benney Theatre to showcase the latest dramas and documentaries made in and around Brighton.

The day featured a total of six films, from a documentary about the Gardner (no relation) Arts Centre, to one about the Brighton Bandits, the 2006 Gay Football League champions. The screening I chose to attend, however, was the British premiere of ‘Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines’. My sister is currently at flight school in Australia, and I’ve been looking for something to chat to her about over Christmas dinner, so her imminent death seemed like a good place to start.

Former airline pilot Tristan Loraine, who hails from Horsham, has somehow managed to scrape together a budget of £200,000 to make this 90-minute exposé of what he claims is the biggest cover-up in aviation history: the fact that the air we breathe whilst travelling on planes comes straight from the jet engines, and is unfiltered, meaning that it can potentially be contaminated with neurotoxins and carcinogens from the jet oil.

I love a good conspiracy theory, especially one which involves the poisoning of my sister, so I couldn't wait to get down there. And it's a good job I did, because to put it politely, turnout was a little on the disappointing side. I think I was the only person there who wasn't in the film. But hey, that's what happens when you screen a movie at 11am on a Sunday morning: everyone's in church.

Fortunately I’m agnostic, so I arrived at the Sallis Benney Theatre on time and handed over my £3 entrance fee, at which point I was accosted by a woman with an Australian accent who handed me a book called ‘Toxic Airlines’ and a CD single of the film's theme song by Kate Garbutt, an 18-year-old singer/songwriter who was discovered busking on the streets of Brighton by the film’s producers, and commissioned to write some music.

Having already scraped the bottom of my piggy bank to raise three quid for the ticket, I was naturally reluctant to part with any more cash, and was about to claim poverty and hand the items back to the nice lady, when she informed me that they were free. So I stuffed them straight into my bag and ducked into the toilets before she changed her mind.

When I emerged, I was accosted again, this time by a bloke who tried to give me another copy of the book and CD. Being as honest as the day is long, I politely turned him down - a decision I regretted the moment I got home and discovered that the book is £9.99 on Amazon, and the CD £3.99. But still, at least that's my sister’s Christmas present sorted. I wouldn't normally spend as much as £14 on her, so she should be quite pleased.

Once inside the auditorium, the bloke I'd just met outside the toilets walked in and introduced himself as Tristan Loraine: director, producer, author and, as readers of The Argus will know, proud owner of Wallace & Gromit’s van. Tristan appeared in The Argus last month after paying £8,000 on Ebay for Nick Park’s Austin A35 – the vehicle which was the inspiration for the Anti-Pesto van in ‘The Curse of The Were-Rabbit’.

‘Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines’ may not have featured any rabbits, but it was quite hare-raising. The film premiered in Paris on November 23rd, and is heading for the American film festival circuit in 2008, but following a screening in Northern Ireland at the end of November, this was its debut on the British mainland, so even ignoring the free merchandise, it was a privilege to be there. And what’s more, the film turned out to be excellent. It focuses on the alleged cover-up which the makers insist is taking place within the airline industry to hide regular incidences of exposure to contaminated air, involving not only pilots and crew of commercial aircraft, but passengers too.

Tristan himself is now unable to fly after being exposed to toxic fumes in the cockpit of a Boeing 757, and apparently he's not alone. In fact, by the end of the film, we'd been introduced to so many pilots and cabin crew whose health has been ruined by these fumes, that I felt like putting on a gas mask and heading straight for the nearest exits (which are located here, here and here).

One such person was Susan Michaelis, a highly experienced airline pilot who was forced to retire due to ill health after breathing contaminated air, and subsequently helped set up the Australian Senate Investigation into cabin air quality issues on the BAe 146. I know her well. She was the woman who gave me the book and CD in the foyer.

I must admit, I walked into the cinema expecting this to be a crackpot film by a group of wacky conspiracy theorists (which is my favourite kind of show on Channel Five), but it actually surprised me. It's a convincing and well-made documentary which doesn't ruin its argument by playing to the camera (Michael Moore, take note) and is intelligent, yet easily comprehensible to the likes of me. And I struggle to follow Dr Who. I can highly recommend it. Though perhaps not as an in-flight movie.

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Published in The Kemptown Rag on 21st December 2007

Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines
by Phil Gardner
   Phil Gardner 2007