NIFF Interview: Andrew Lancaster talks about The Lost Aviator



Back in the 1930s, the world knew only a few big names from aviation world. Only one person managed to get people to look at him from a different perspective; some of them admired him for his achievement while some judged him for the choices he made. But in the end, he is remembered not as a pioneer British aviator, who flew all the way from London to Australia, but rather as the lost aviator. Set in the Golden Age of Aviation, Andrew Lancaster follows the fascinating, filled with drama, life and times of his great uncle, Captain Bill Lancaster. During his journey Andrew finds a remarkable part of Bill’s life that stunned the people back in 1930`s and made them talk about it even years later… This is the story of the Lost Aviator… Read full review here.

During Niagara Integrated Film Festival, I had great pleasure to sit down with Andrew Lancaster to talk about his journey worth knowing about.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you begin your journey to film the life of Bill and Chubbie?

Andrew Lancaster: The journey began when I fell in love with making documentaries out of doing a short documentary that was in 2010. I’d come from doing drama, I’d done bigger productions with big crews. With a documentary crew I loved the freedom I had, so I said to my girlfriend Noni, ‘Would you like to come on this adventure?’ and we’re going to trace Bill and Chubbie’s footsteps around the world. That was meant to be like a one year project, four years later here we are.

MOVIEMOVESME: During your researches or investigations what kind of feelings did you have when you started digging into the history?

Andrew Lancaster: The emotions I had during the research were ranging from just pure fascination into the time and era as well as Bill’s character. I found Bill’s character probably the most fascinating. I think that he was someone who I kind of really cared for. I think he’s someone I really felt sorry for. It is a tragic story but I also had emotions of like, ‘Oh you idiot, why’d you do that for?’, and he kind of made some bad decisions. But I think he’s a character that went from being a hero in Chubbie’s eyes or someone who she looked up to and he taught her too. He had the power in that relationship, then that power was inversed because she ended up becoming someone who looked down at him because he didn’t get the fame and exposure and she became more famous while he became the jealous lover. I think that he should have let Chubbie go to a certain extent because he kind of hung around a lot. Even when they were living together, they weren’t sleeping in the same bed. The relationship had become platonic. She kept him around and they worked together, they loved each other but the passion was gone.

MOVIEMOVESME: Do you think the jealousy happened because in 1920s and 1930s a man could have done anything? You wouldn’t be surprised if a man traveled from one part of the world to another. But for a woman, in this case Chubbie, it was very different.

Andrew Lancaster: Chubbie was the first woman to fly from London to Australia. As soon as they arrived, they missed the record but she became more famous than Bill. She arrived in America when they were really encouraged to go there by Smith and the navigator Harry. They told her you have to come there as a woman pilot as there’s very few woman pilots. She became friends with Emilia Hart. They did the Powderpuff derbies. She needed to get her license for a commercial pilot, she needed to go to Canada to do that. So she was the first woman to get a commercial pilot’s license in Canada. I think at the time there were so few women pilots that she was able to be a bit of a trailblazer. Then depression hit and it was through publishing she made her money and not flying.

MOVIEMOVESME: As you said the love Chubbie had for Bill later became platonic, did she want to just use him as Bill had shown through his diary entries that he wanted to keep impressing Chubbie?

Andrew Lancaster: Many people think she was a bit of a user but I think she truly loved Bill at the beginning and that the love faded. I think she felt sorry for him and that’s why they became kind of best friends. I think the trial brought them closer. They were able to share the horrific thing they went through. They made a story, testified in court in the same lack of detail every time. In forensics now, if people tell the same story, it generally is more reliable than a polygraph test, I think because they colluded and had a story, that brought them back together in kind of a weird pact.

MOVIEMOVESME: What have your opinions about Bill after all this fascinating discoveries and research that you’ve done and learned about him?

Andrew Lancaster: I learnt that on one hand he was an amazing pilot but also he was fairly foolish. He was also someone who caused a lot of damage to his family, he basically left his wife and children to fly around the world. It was great for him but he left a lot of damage and heartbreak. That’s what Nina was most upset about and people with abandonment issues identify with Nina.

MOVIEMOVESME: The archive footage really allowed the viewers to travel back in time. It’s really amazing that it enabled them to watch the documentary like a feature film.

Andrew Lancaster: That was kind of my objective to tell the story like it was a feature film unfolding. I knew there was newsreel footage. We uncolored all the footage and we even zoomed into some footage to transfer to High Definition and we could see Bill and Chubbie in the background. We used as many photos we could find, we really tried to keep the film alive so that it’s not just a talking heads film, and it’s really immersive. I think the combination of the miniseries that is used as comic relief but also reconstruction plus the archive and also the documentary that was made in Sahara Desert. We just didn’t want it to be a documentary that was talking heads.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about your plan, the music, the editing, the entire process that enabled it to end up as such a dramatic experience?

Andrew Lancaster: We really wanted to draw all the audience in. The first five minutes of the film is all about creating intrigue and setting up a conflict, central questions, the central dramatic question is, ‘Did Bill Lancaster kill Hayden Clark?’ I think that the great thing is that you have a story that is a Noir in a way, set in the 1930s. It is kind of prohibition, it’s in Miami, got a murder mystery. But also currency in the family conflict. This is a story some people are a bit touchy about the way I’m gonna tell it. The music is paramount because it draws the audience in. It’s got a pace to it but is entwined with emotion and intrigue that transports you back in time. It was all about keeping the audience intrigued and keeping them alive.

MOVIEMOVESME: In your opinion, what do you think really happened?

Andrew Lancaster: I don’t want to give away too much for obvious reasons but I do believe in the theory of protection. I think protection is a very prevalent theme in this documentary. Bill protecting Chubbie, Chubbie protecting Bill from going to the electric chair and also the family protecting Nina from the story. Whatever happened on that fateful night I feel that it was very kind of sanitized for the court. If I was to do a drama on it, it would be hot, sweaty, alcohol fueled night with arguments and passion. Something went wrong and the story they told in court I don’t believe in.

MOVIEMOVESME: Do you think what happened to Bill in the desert was a result of bad Karma?

Andrew Lancaster: Absolutely. A lot of people have suggested it was suicide, but I don’t believe that because of the way he wrote. He wanted to live. So if it was an accident, if he did kill Hayden Clark it was definitely Karma that’d play a part. But I think it’s very bizarre that he died the day years later on the day Hayden Clark died. The Boomerang or Karma, however you put it, it’s quite ironic that it happened. Some think he engineered it to die on that day as part of the guilt. He was very foolhardy on that flight, he wasn’t prepared, and he shouldn’t be doing it. He was sleep deprived. He could have just fallen asleep, flying at night with no lights, no markings, just a compass, you can easily lose the horizon and go into the sand.

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