By Shelby Pendowski
In 2009, 228 people boarded Air France flight 447 in Rio de Janeiro to make a routine flight to Paris, but the passengers and flight crew never reached their final destination. The Air France flight disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean.
The mystery of the flight and its recovery in May 2011 inspired local producer and screenwriter Roger Rapoport to create the film “Pilot Error” about Nicola Wilson, an investigative reporter personally impacted by the plane crash, and her search for answers.
“Malaysia happened well after we had filmed and shot most of the movie,” said Jacqui Bernhardt, an actress in the film. “It is just a relevant issue similar to things that are happening right now. That is when I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this movie could really change the way we are looking at airlines.’”
Production began July 31, 2013 in Muskegon, Mich., but before filming began, Rapoport and director Joe Anderson casted a variety of local actors. Three members of the Grand Valley State University community were chosen, including Bernhardt who graduated from GVSU in 2014.
“I love being a part of independent films, especially when it is in West Michigan, because I think Michigan is a great state to have film professionally done,” Bernhardt said. “So anything I can do to be a part of that I want to do.”
Kate Thomsen, an adjunct theater professor at GVSU, stars as Nicola Wilson, and fellow professor and WGVU Morning Show host Shelley Irwin plays a TV reporter throughout the film.
“…when we had made the movie I hadn’t really heard of Air France, but as I was researching, I thought this is kind of interesting and strange,” Bernhardt said. “I loved how Kate’s character, Kate Thomsen, was so independent and determined to solve this.”
With professors and alumni starring in local films, it can impact current GVSU students who are looking to pursue a career in acting, Bernhardt said.
“Having a Grand Valley professor lead in a film that is showing across the country but that was made not even a half hour away from Grand Valley, I think it just says a lot about the future and about the potential Grand Valley has,” Bernhardt said. “(Students) don’t have to move out to New York or Los Angeles to begin their careers. Self-starters all over the place can create their own independent films, and there are plenty of talents and locations right here in Michigan.”
The film highlights regional locations in the majority of the scenes.
“I think a big reason our films are so widely attended when we do events is because it was made in our backyard,” Bernhardt said. “It is just very exciting to have a film that was made in our area, produced in our area and premiered in our area.”
The film’s cast and crew traveled all around the state from Detroit to Holland to Saugatuck to Ypsilanti to film the project. As the projector rolls, attendees are transported not only throughout the United States in the plot, but also internationally. The film shot a total of 12 Michigan locations, plus scenes in Milwaukee and Paris.
“Pilot Error” premiered at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo on Nov. 8, 2014 and since has played in theaters locally and nationwide.
“Not truly having read the whole script, I was in the audience just as the person next to me,” Irwin said. “The premiere itself was done so professionally. You had a stage, you had a VIP section and you had comments afterwards from a panel. So it was a first class premiere.”
The film has many upcoming showings including at the Fremont Cinema in Fremont, Mich. on Jan. 9 and at the Harbor Cinema in Muskegon from Jan. 16 through 22. For more information on the film and other showing times, visit http://www.pilot-errormovie.com.