Most of us have sat through those awful mainstream television documentaries on UFOs, Bigfoot and various other mysteries. The faces of interviewees barely discernable through the heavy shadows, the terrible faux X-Files soundtrack, and a breathy voiceover issued three octaves below normal pitch. And, as the final indignity, if the viewer is able to sit through the torture of all that, they are usually subjected to the opinion of some pseudo-skeptic at the end admonishing us all for taking an interest in the topic. Thankfully, this review is about something completely different.
Canadian director/producer Paul Kimball is a man who knows ufology. While he may not be a favourite with many notables in the UFO research community – due to his tendency to state what he thinks of various theories, cases and personalities quite openly – he does know the history behind the topic very well, and brings a natural skepticism as well (without being a debunking zealot). Indeed, one could hardly think of a better person to produce a definitive documentary about the best UFO sightings to this point.
Well, happy times are here, because Kimball has recently completed exactly that: Best Evidence: Top Ten UFO Sightings premiered on Canada’s “Space: The Imagination Station” network last month, and is now in the process of being sold and distributed to networks around the world (with DVD release to follow later). Though perhaps lacking in the type of big budget provided to features such as the relatively recent Peter Jennings special ‘Seeing is Believing’, the methodology, knowledge and intellectual honesty of the Best Evidence team makes this documentary stand out above those big budget efforts.
Instead of picking the top ten cases on their apparent ‘sellability’ – eg. Roswell – Kimball surveyed the experts in the field for their opinion on the best ever cases (based on evidence, reliability and number of witnesses etc). Notables such as Karl Pflock, Nick Redfern, Stanton Friedman, Richard Hall, Don Ledger, Kevin Randall (amongst many others) all put forth their opinion, and the resulting top ten will probably surprise many who aren’t conversant with ufological history (most especially, television executives!). No trace of Roswell. No Adamski photo. No Phoenix Lights. So what’s left?
The 45 minutes of Best Evidence is pretty much all devoted to analysis and discussion of these ten cases…no lead-up hype, no philosophical meandering. Just an outline of each case, intermixed with excellent interview footage with ufological luminaries such as Stanton Friedman, Nick Pope and Brad Sparks (again, amongst others), and actual ‘experiencers’ such as Robert Salas (Malstrom) and Charles Halt (Rendlesham).
This is an excellent exposition of a number of cases which will – in my opinion – leave the lay viewer with their mouth agape, wondering how orthodox science can get away with dismissing ‘true’ ufology as some sort of joke. Cases such as Rendlesham, Shag Harbour and the 1996 Yukon sighting, with multiple reliable witnesses, can only invoke an astonished response from anyone not already conversant with the details of the cases.
Nevertheless, while the ‘straight’ exposition works well in presenting the evidence behind each case, it would still have been nice to hear some of the balancing ‘skeptical’ arguments to each case, as well as having some of the bigger philosophical questions addressed. When the Kelly Johnson case was presented, my reaction was to wonder what sort of coincidence would allow for both aeronautical design genius Kelly Johnson, and members of his team elsewhere aboard an aircraft, to make independent sightings of the same UFO – does this argue for some sort of government psy-op, or does it argue for some sort of ufological intelligence directing itself towards these scientists working in such a related field? Similarly, when UFOs dive underwater and make a beeline for an advanced submarine detection base, what can we read from the situation? These questions are not addressed at all, although I think this was actually intentional – in effect, let the viewer make up their own mind, rather than forcefeed them an explanation (although I did note habitual use of the extraterrestrial meme, in comments such as ‘out of this world’, ‘mothership’ etc).
Also, it would have been nice to see the locales in which the cases took place, and a few more of the primary witnesses, to give the viewer a better sense of ‘gestalt’ of each case. However, I have no doubt this is more related to budgetary concerns than Kimball overlooking such an option – travelling with a crew in tow is notoriously expensive, and it must be remembered that Best Evidence is not a primetime mainstream television feature. Certainly, I bring this up only as a minor comment, not any sort of catastrophic flaw in the film.
Barring the above criticisms, Best Evidence is a wonderful documentary. Special effects vary from average, such as in the Kelly Johnson case, to excellent – the Trent case is done beautifully with moving footage morphing into the photo. One surprise is the narration, provided by Canadian actress Kris Lee McBride, which turns the worn out cliche of deep and breathy narration in UFO documentaries on its head. Although at times McBride seems a little stiff in her presentation – at points you can almost hear her reading the script – for the most part, the rational/logical vibe of the female voiceover works extremely well (similar to the use of female narration in British documentaries – Horizon’s Dilly Barlow is a close comparison). More experience at narration, and also perhaps with ufology itself, will no doubt serve McBride well over time, giving her the confidence to use her voice to its full advantage.
The interviews with ufologists and experiencers are shot beautifully, and for me were the central focus of Best Evidence. Not having the access to conferences and events that some do, it’s always a pleasure for me to watch the experts explain their point of view – and Kimball gives them plenty of chance to do so. Friedman brings gravitas as well as some theatre with his wonderfully intoned comments (see the Malstrom case interviews on Google Video), Brad Sparks speaks with a knowledge of ufological history as well as technical nous, and Mac Tonnies offers a wonderful concluding comment to the documentary. I am told that the DVD, when it goes on sale, will offer a second disc with extended interviews covering not only the top ten presented here, but others as well – something to look forward to.
In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled on your local television station, and hope that it comes your way soon. And also that Paul Kimball continues to receive commissions to create fascinating documentaries of the standard of Best Evidence.