Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aztec: 1948

Of all the films I've made, this is one of two that I wish I could do over again, primarily because it helped resurrect the Aztec UFO hoax, which should have stayed dead and buried (same reason for the other I would do over, Do You Believe in Majic). I learned a valuable lesson - a documentary filmmaker doesn't necessarily need to take a neutral stance, particularly when what he's being told is nuts. As the years have gone on, I've realized that even-handedness is about presenting the truth, and not about treating both sides as if they are equally valid when they clearly are not. But I was young(er) and less experienced back then, and didn't want to be seen as anything other than fair. Mea culpa.

Still, it's nice to see my old friend, the late Karl Pflock, who I think covers the Aztec hoax as well as it could be covered. He also brings up the Farmington Armada, which is the one case from the Aztec region that people should discuss, but it's just not sexy enough, because it doesn't have a crashed flying saucer and 16 dead little aliens.

The film was shot for less than $15,000 (and piggy-backed on the production of Do You Believe in Majic), which shows in the production value at points, and the reliance on interviews, but it's something of which I'm proud.

Alas, it would be nice if the distributor's write-up actually reflected what was in the film. Instead, the write-up is clearly designed to sell the film to the "aliens are here / crashed flying saucer" crowd, which is somewhat disingenuous, given the fairly even-handed point-of-view the film takes. Marketing in the film industry has absolutely nothing to do with truth.

A couple of other things:

The film was shot in 2003. Still no results from the core sample that Scott Ramsey took and was having analyzed.

None of the documents that Scott showed me referenced a flying saucer crash at Aztec. None. Not even remotely.

He never did give me the name of the anonymous witness he refers to in the film. When he says he told me about him, it was just what this guy had allegedly told Scott. I was never given the opportunity to confirm any of what this person supposedly said, or even that the person actually existed, despite requesting to do so.

Finally, here's an interesting anecdote from the production, which my crew members still find amusing. We were doing some filming down near Socorro, at a wildlife sanctuary (where Scott said there might have been a flying saucer crash...), and across the road were two guys, who had parked their van and gotten out with binoculars and a camera. Most of the time they were looking at various birds, but every now and then they would look over at us, something I've gotten quite used to over the years - if you have a large video or film camera out, people tend to stare, and wonder what you're filming. Anyway, after a few minutes, Scott came over to me and told me he thought the two guys might be government agents following us! He made a big deal about taking down their license plate number, and said he was going to get a friend to "run" them. Then he suggested that we turn our camera around, and start filming them. I politely refused, and a minute or two later told my guys to pack up. We had what we needed (just some b-roll that was never going to be in the film), and I was a bit weirded out by Scott, not for the first time. I'm saving the rest of the stories for the Aztec chapter of my memoirs!

For my views on the Aztec hoax, I encourage everyone to type "Aztec" into the search engine for this blog, which will take you to all of the posts I made after the film was released.

Paul Kimball


Ryan P. said...

This Ramsey guy sounds pretty wacky Paul. Care to spill some more beans. Inquiring minds want to know!!

purrlgurrl said...

I haven't watched the piece yet, and definitely will later today, but I respect and admire you for admitting you're uncomfortable because you didn't take a stand.

Many documentaries have a clear point of view (Michael Moore makes no secret of his, whatever one might think of him). Evenhandedness is essential and expected when something is being presented as a straight news story/investigative report, which at least in theory should contain no hint of the reporter's personal biases, state the unvarnished facts, and represent all the viewpoints on them.

As long as a film maker doesn't represent his documentary as "news", which leads viewers to expect a balanced presentation, his film can have a strong point of view. After all, it's generally what compelled the making of the film in the first place.

Paul Kimball said...


Part of the problem is that we had private US financing for the film, about $12,000, all Ramsey's friends, so I felt an obligation to Ramsey (which was not subsequently reciprocated). It's the only time in my career that I've taken private money for a doc (the rest were all financed with public investment, tax credits and broadcast licenses), and I swore afterwards to never do it again. No editorial control was exercised by Ramsey (to his credit), or his investors, but you just can't be objective under circumstances where a fair share of the money for a particular film is coming from the subject and his pals. Looking back on it, I'm actually proud that I got as much contrary material in as I did.


purrlgurrl said...

Wow. No wonder you're uncomfortable about this film. What a pickle you were in.

Pflock comes across as smart and reassuringly rational all the way through the film. By about 10 or so minutes in, Ramsey starts sounding more and more like he's selling snake oil (which the Astec crash story truly is). So ultimately, it comes down to who is more credible onscreen. I would say Pflock--hands down.

Paul Kimball said...

As I said, it was after this film that I swore to never take private money ever again for the making of a documentary, a vow that I've managed to keep ever since.

And yes, Aztec is snake oil. It was then, and it is now. The sad part is that there's a really interesting story there, about the hoax, and how people reacted to it, but that's not what people want to hear in UFO-dumb. Also, there may well have been a legit UFO incident in the Aztec area (the so-called "Farmington armada"), which even Karl thought was real, but again, that's not the "sexy" thing that true believers want to hear, or that sells books, or videos, or gets you invited to speak at conferences.


El Cerdo Ignatius said...

As I said, it was after this film that I swore to never take private money ever again for the making of a documentary, a vow that I've managed to keep ever since.

Oh, for goodness sake. What I am I going to do with all this private money that I was going to forward to you for your next project?

I'm saving the rest of the stories for the Aztec chapter of my memoirs!

No time like the present, Paul. Get writing!