“Please Remove Your Shoes” premieres Monday at Boston Film Festival

Boston Herald

Are sweaty feet keeping us safe?

Nine years after the 9/11 attacks, Arlington businessman Fred Gevalt is infuriated he has to go barefoot as he walks through the airport metal detectors. Like other critics of the Transportation Security Administration, he calls the process “security theater,” alleging that uniformed TSA workers engage in meaningless role-playing skits that harass the public but catch no terrorists.

But unlike his fellow skeptics, Gevalt has pumped $1 million into the theater metaphor, funding a feature documentary film that mocks the way America tries to keep its skies safe. “Please Remove Your Shoes” premieres Monday at the Boston Film Festival.

Gevalt, a general aviation pilot and retired publisher, was flying over Long Island Sound the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He had departed Bedford’s Hanscom Field in his Beechcraft Bonanza plane and was headed toward LaGuardia Airport for a business trip when he was instructed to turn back.

“I had no idea what was going on. It was like driving down Route 495 with no traffic and having a state trooper tell you to go back where you came from.”

The shock hasn’t gone away.

“Are we using airline security as a great big scarecrow to keep the bad guys on their toes or are we using it to catch them?” asks Gevalt. “The underwear bomber’s dad called the authorities and warned them, but we did nothing about it. It’s all about intelligence gathering and sharing data.”

In the film, which was partially shot at Logan International Airport and Washington, D.C.’s Reagan and Dulles airports, the TSA is portrayed as a bumbling bureaucracy that seems more concerned with public relations than deterring terrorists. “Please Remove Your Shoes” mocks the original policy requiring air marshals to wear suits and ties, noting that if the passengers all know who the special agent is, it is no secret to the hijackers.

The documentary also blasts the government for putting too much technical information about security devices on the TSA Web site, giving terrorists extra tools to evade detection.

Director Rob DelGaudio says he thinks airport screeners are convenient scapegoats, but they don’t deserve much of the blame. “The real horror story,” he says, “is the lack of leadership and effective management in the TSA, plus the fact the managers who oversaw security pre-9/11 with the Federal Aviation Administration were all shuffled over to the TSA and tasked with the same job.”

“Personally, I’d assign the task to the military, perhaps the Air Force, as an initial way station post in their careers,” he adds. “Either that or make it the first rung on the career ladder for all the federal law enforcement agencies.”

Behind the scenes, DelGaudio was psyched that his crew’s camera gear did not have to be dragged through the X-ray machines with security officers pawing through every wire and cable. The precious cargo was hauled separately in Gevalt’s private plane for each shoot location. “What do you tip an executive producer/pilot/baggage handler?” jokes DelGaudio. “We settled on five dollars a bag!”

“Please Remove Your Shoes” is now on the film festival circuit and may soon travel to college campuses, says Gevalt, who has experienced one huge surprise since wrapping up production.

So far, he’s not on the No-Fly List.

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