A new documentary, 21 Miles in Malibu, focuses on one of the deadliest stretches of road in California, Pacific Coast Highway.
In 2016, there were 617 traffic collisions in the area between McClure Tunnel and the northernmost city limit of Malibu: that number is consistent from year to year.
“How can the community let this go on and nothing be done?” asked producer Michel Shane (Catch Me if You Can and I, Robot), who produced 21 Miles.
The Malibu resident pointed out it seemed to be up to the community to advocate for change, and this was his way of contributing.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not going to write a story,” he said. “I’m a filmmaker, I make films.”
In 2010, his daughter Emily Shane was waiting for him on a Malibu roadside, when a guy pointed his car at the 13-year-old, ran into her and killed her.
Devastated, Emily’s father and mother Ellen have dealt not only with the loss of a child, but also ensuring the man who murdered their daughter is not paroled.
This 58-minute documentary is personal but is also meant to create change.
The four-lane road that transverses the coastline is rife with beauty, but also danger. People park along the road and dart across it for views of the Pacific Ocean. Drunken driving along the curvy road has cost many people their lives, including director Bob Clark (Christmas Story) and his son in 2007.
Shane started working on the documentary in 2012, and went through four directors, but the project didn’t feel right.
“I had accumulated a lot of film,” he said, “that included a lot of accident footage and photographs.
“Everyone knows that road is full of carnage,” he said, noting the trick is to tell a story that doesn’t desensitize a viewer. “How do you move people to action?”
Then, Shane saw Director Nic Davis’ 2020 documentary, Enormous: The Gorge Story, which showed the evolution from a family-owned Washington Winery in rural farmland, and a makeshift plywood stage, to a renowned concert venue that attracts seven million people.
The producer asked Davis, “How would you like to tell a story about a road?”
The two collaborated and the finished documentary, 21 Miles in Malibu, tells the personal story of a young life lost on PCH, while weaving in the beauty of the coast and the dangers of the road.
Former state and county legislator Sheila Kuehl, started the Pacific Coast Highway Task Force, when she was in state government almost two decades ago.
And quarterly, officials from Santa Monica, Malibu, Los Angeles City and Caltrans meet to work on safety on the roadway. There have been public safety announcements, a 2018 safety grant of $150,000, which was used to promote education and numerous ideas how to make the road safer, but the accident and fatality rate stays consistent.
Shane said, “PCH invites bad driving and it happens over and over. Nothing ever changes. Then you get a new city council, who says we’re going to do a study.
“We already have a study,” he said.
Shane is right: there have been numerous studies. He attempted to speak to Caltrans for the film but was told he needed to submit a list of questions prior to an interview. “Caltrans mandate is to move vehicles from A to B,” Shane said. “It’s not about safety.”
His 58-minute documentary captures the beauty of the road, loss of life and the impact that accidents have had.
Shane understands, better than any, that films are about business and are expected to make money. This is different. It is personal. He’s funded the making of the documentary, because of its importance.
“This film isn’t about business,” Shane said. “This is about awareness.”
The film was finished in October, and has been submitted to 30 film festivals. So far, it’s been accepted at four. He plans to show it to Malibu residents in a free screening and would like to do the same in Pacific Palisades.
His hope is that this effort can go back to a time in the 1960s when “students and the hippies made a difference, made a change.”
“If the public were aware, we could create a change,” he said.
(Editor’s note: The pictures are courtesy of Michel Shane. The movie website is: 21milesinmalibu.com)
I do hope he screens it here in the Palisades.
I would like to see it. My heart breaks for him.
I remember when Emily was killed. Such an evil , destructive act – taking such a promising life from all of us.
I commend Michael for making this important film. I had my art studio in Malibu for many years. I miss so many of the lovely people I met there. I do not miss driving that dangerous road.
I look forward to seeing the film.
Hi Sue. Ironic that I just wrote you yesterday about the Palisades Bowl crosswalk deaths and injuries, and that I have received no response in two weeks from Assembly Parks office… The beat (and DEATHS) goes on…
Tony, I think you mean City Councilperson, District #11 Traci Park
her email: council email@example.com
You can also email her Field Deputy Michael Amster
his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I would really like it to be viewed by all Pali Hi students and Malibu Hi students. It might have a strong impact on the way they drive or will be driving. It should also be seen by all students at SamoHi for the same reason. Include it as part of the curriculum like Drivers Ed. used to be taught. It would be a start at least that might help the future. And all adults who are ticketed for any reason, along the same route, should be required to attend a showing as well as part of their penalty, not just pay the ticket. It’s time to get tough to help prevent unnecessary accidents due to bad driving habits. Thank you Michael for making this film in memory of your precious daughter.
Please send the film to all the bike clubs that ride every week
Trying to rely on educating people will never ever ever work. You reach a fraction of the drivers on that road. The accidents are due to wreckless driving, texting, speeding, etc. all the things that some people do daily. There should be barriers all along PCH no matter how much they cost. That would prevent cross overs and also people running across the highway. There should be more strategically placed traffic lights. Too bad if it us down. My sisters dear friend lost his life last year crossing in the crosswalk on his right of way when someone ran a clear red light and he was already in the middle of the crosswalk. He was killed on impact. There should be strategically placed cops along that road as a matter of daily diligence giving tickets by the boat load. It’s a fools mission to think people are going to change on their own. Why do we continue to think they will?
The correct title of the documentary is “21 Miles in Malibu” but has been listed incorrectly at least three times that I see in your article as “21 Miles on Malibu”: first in your article’s title [OOPS!], in your opening sentence, and in the title of your Response section. I do hope we get to see it in the Palisades, and I do like the idea of showing it to the high school students in Santa Monica, Palisades and Malibu.
Thanks. Making the change.