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21 Miles in Malibu, a documentary about traffic, grief and bureaucratic inertia, premieres Feb. 16 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It’s produced by and centers on the producer Michel Shane (Catch Me If You Can, I Robot), his wife, Ellen, and their 13-year-old daughter, Emily, who was fatally struck by a driver in 2010 while walking along Pacific Coast Highway.
The 56-minute film, directed by Nic Davis (Enormous: The Gorge Story), explores the evolution, dynamics, paradoxes and — most crucially — dangers of PCH, which serves as the key conduit for both the ultra-affluent, world-famous town’s residents (its population is just over 10,000, according to the most recent U.S. Census), as well as the throngs who increasingly visit, especially on weekends, holidays and in the summer. The road’s long history of death and destruction has begat a local nickname, Blood Alley; countless government-funded studies; and perpetual questions about why more hasn’t been done to increase safety.
Shane’s own frustration fueled his work on the project. “I’m not really a political animal — I’m a filmmaker,” he says. “The best way for me to express the outrage, to get the message out, was visually.” (The man who killed Emily — Sina Khankhanian, found to be speeding for miles before colliding with her — is currently in prison for second-degree murder.)
Shane has his own suggestions to address the crisis: vastly increasing the cost of tickets to dissuade speeding; building a couple of city-owned garages in Malibu catering to visitors, so they are less likely to park and exit their vehicles along PCH. But mainly he’d just like to see CalTrans, the state’s transportation agency responsible for the roadway, simply carry out the many prosaic fixes that its consultants have long suggested, from adjusted lane markings and clearer signage to better synchronization in streetlight systems. “They spend a whole bunch of money doing studies, and then there’s little change implemented,” he says.
PCH is the site of hundreds of vehicle-related accidents each year. California Highway Patrol data for the 21 miles of PCH within the city’s limits shows 49 fatalities between 2012 and 2022. The agency’s primary listed causes include distraction, speeding and intoxication.
This being Malibu, occasionally the deadly incidents involve famous figures, prompting brief waves of outcry and recrimination about what needs to be done, including a 2015 tragedy in which a driver in a pickup truck slammed into the parked car of rapper MC Supreme, aka Dewayne Coleman, or the same year when Caitlyn Jenner initiated a multivehicle collision that resulted in the death of another motorist. (Jenner wasn’t charged.)
“When someone that’s high-profile is involved, [the issue] gets the attention that’s necessary,” Shane says. “Then everything else, you’re just one of the statistics. It’s brutal.”
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