TV Special: Celebrities
Have Close Encounters, Too
A & E Showtimes:
Mon Oct. 18th 9 to 10 PM EST
Tues. Oct. 19th 1 to 2 AM EST
Sat. Oct. 23rd 3 to 4 PM EST .com:80/area51/celebrity_ufo_991015.html
It's not just the nobodies who believe in flying saucers. From filmmakers to astronauts, Hollywood to Silicon Valley, an upcoming documentary surveys the UFO beliefs of the distinguished, rich and famous.
For "Celebrity Close Encounters," an hour-length original production of the Arts & Entertainment channel, documentarian Kevin Barry interviewed actors Dennis Weaver and Patricia Neal, Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, Internet millionaire Joe Firmage and veteran director Robert Wise about their UFO experiences and beliefs.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The centerpiece of the project is a discussion of the somber, groundbreaking 1951 film "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which Barry describes as a "jewel ... beautifully directed."
In the film, director Robert Wise introduced the general U.S. public to the theme of the "benevolent space brothers" who warn humanity that we must escape the cold-war traps of fear and hatred or risk destruction. By stilling our machines, gentle alien Klaatu (portrayed by the late Michael Rennie) compels the people of Earth to listen to his message of galactic peace, but the message goes unheeded. Klaatu is ultimately martyred by the people he came to help.
Barry quite rightly points to the film as being "a real impetus for the saucer scare" of the 1950s, but notes that viewers should "watch the documentary" -- especially interviews with Seth Shostak of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and physicist Bernie Haisch -- for the full story.
Meanwhile, Barry says Wise -- who directed such films as "The Sound of Music" and "The Andromeda Strain," and was the uncredited director of "The Magnificent Ambersons" -- "is a believer" who thinks many people are very interested in "the possibilities about making contact."
Barry also interviewed Patricia Neal, who played the romantic lead in the film.
Firmage and Cooper
Other celebrity highlights of the documentary include interviews with < Firmage and < Cooper. Barry says he "for the most part" applauds Firmage's commitment to push the envelope of scientific and cultural thought, while he promises that the Cooper interview is, to his knowledge, the only time the astronaut discusses his 1951 encounter with a UFO "fleet" over Germany.
Commentary from "historians, experts, storytellers, skeptics and interesting points of view," including parasychologists Brad and Sherry Steiger, round out the hour. Although Barry would have liked to interview Jimmy Carter about his own report of a UFO sighting, he says the ex-president's office "politely turned down" the request.
The Power of UFO Stories
As a member of the mainstream media doing work in the UFO field, Barry is careful to caution the more cautious wing of the paranormal subculture that his work was not manipulated to serve conservative -- or conspiratorial -- interests.
"Many people believe that the media is manipulating all these alien-themed commercials and documentaries in recent years.... I find that laughable. Nobody influenced me, nor could they, regarding who or what gets covered in my shows. It's really sad that a lot of believers truly think the media -- or the government, for that matter -- has that power."
Rather, he is explicit in stating that the real source of the UFO saga's power over contemporary resides in the people who find the story enthralling.
"Before I started doing this kind of documentary, I had no interest in the subject," he says. "Now I do, big time. I think these are great stories ... we care about these stories because they hold the key to the future, the past, why we are here, and the truth."
"Ninety-seven percent of sightings can be explained away. But that [unexplained] three percent fascinates me, and I intend to do more documentaries exploring the possibilities."
Celebrity Close Encounters, a special presentation of A&E's "Investigative Reports" series, airs Monday, October 18, at 9 p.m. ET, and then again at 1 a.m. ET. It will be repeated on Saturday, October 23.