THE PHENOMENON (2020, doc)

October 6, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. One has to hand it to documentarian James Fox. He is nothing if not persistent. And persistency is a requirement for anyone involved with researching and reporting UFO sightings that now date back more than 70 years. To give you an idea of Mr. Fox’s commitment to the cause, he also directed OUT OF THE BLUE (2003, which was also narrated by Peter Coyote) and I KNOW WHAT I SAW (2009), and produced (with his father Charles) UFO’S: 50 YEARS OF DENIAL (1997).

Peter Coyote is back as narrator for Mr. Fox’s latest project, apparently inspired by the 2017 New York Times report of the secret Pentagon UFO program called Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which details US Navy Pilots’ multiple encounters with Unidentified Flying Objects. And just this year (2020), the US Defense Department confirmed encounters classified as ‘unconfirmed’.

For many years now, we have heard the claims that, “We are not alone in the Universe”, and “There is something else out there.” This film lays out the photographic evidence and the eyewitness testimony, as well as researching the secretive nature of the government on this topic for so long. We hear from some of those affiliated with Project Blue Book, the UFO investigative initiative formulated by the US Air Force. Many pilots and crew have documented what they’ve seen, and there is even a 1998 interview with Astronaut Gordon Cooper, providing more credibility to the sightings and encounters.

The film somewhat works as a timeline, but director Fox chose to bounce around in time, which provides some structure, while also working against a chronological perspective. It goes back to 1947, when pilot Kenneth Arnold reported an encounter with multiple flying saucers in formation near Mount Rainier, and then details more sightings that occurred over the next few decades, including: 1952 invasion of secure airspace, 1955 military pilot William Coleman, 1957 Levelland, Texas sheriff, 1966 landing in Michigan, and the 1966 Congressional hearings. We learn of “The case that changed everything”, a 1964 New Mexico encounter with Officer Lonnie Zamora, which left evidence such as landing gear imprints, footprints, and a burn area.

As you would expect, Dr. Jacques Vallee and Dr. J Allen Hynek are included here. They are two of the foremost experts on UFO research, and Dr. Vallee was the inspiration for Francois Truffaut’s Dr. Lacombe in Steven Spielberg’s classic CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Director Fox does a nice job mixing the interviews with experts, historians, military personnel, intelligence officers, and eye witnesses – interviews that have taken place over many years. For skeptics, plenty of international work is blended in, as we learn of the students in 1966 Australia, the 1982 Ukrainian nuclear site, and in the “Contact” section, we hear of 1959 New Guinea where the aliens “waved” back, and 1994 Zimbabwe, where students reported being communicated with telepathically.

watch the trailer