Most UFO documentaries follow the same old format in which they boldly claim to feature the ‘ultimate evidence’ that can prove, once and for all, that aliens have come to our planet aboard metal spacecraft; the irony here, of course, is that most of these films are preaching to the choir of enthusiasts who are already convinced about the reality of extraterrestrial visitation, and are just looking for new material that will either reaffirm their own faith, or help convert the unbelievers.
Witness of Another World (Testigo de Otro Mundo) disregards that format in its entirety. Director and writer Alan Stivelman is not terribly preoccupied with convincing his audience of protagonist Juan Pérez’s dramatic close encounter of the third kind in September of 1978, back when he was just a young, innocent boy growing up in the rural setting of the Argentinian pampa; a seemingly unremarkable child with the most common name in all of Latin America –“Juan Pérez” is the Spanish equivalent of “John Smith” or even “John Doe”– who was suddenly face to face with the greatest mystery of our modern age, and was thrown into a whirlwind of confusion, celebrity and ridicule for which he was never able to fully recover. Does anyone ever?
Instead of bothering with trying to gather material traces, tissue samples, blood tests or the expert testimony of authorities that could ‘confirm’ such a story, the film focuses instead with something more important, which unfortunately most UFO investigators tend to overlook: the impact –physical, psychological and emotional– that these incredible experiences have on those fortunate (or unfortunate) to live them. If the viewer is not moved by the anguish visible in Juan’s face, by the honesty in his words, and if the tears running down his cheeks are not enough to convince you that something REAL happened to this man and others like him, which has scarred him for life (both figuratively AND literally) and haunted him ever since, then no amount of official documents with ‘top secret’ seals will serve to change your mind.
Whether Juan Pérez, or all the reporters and UFOlogists who have looked into the case ever since it became widely publicized by the Argentine press in the early 80’s, have managed to correctly interpret the encounter and its implications, is another matter entirely. Because another major difference that distinguishes Witness of Another World from almost any other UFO-related documentary, is that it doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole Juan’s experience into the stereotypical framework of the extra-terrestrial hypothesis; neither does it seek to explain it away in terms of psychiatric aberrations or psycho-social delusions, the way Western ‘rationalists’ have tried to downplay the impact of close encounters in our society; with the unfortunate outcome that witnesses and abductees are even more discouraged from seeking professional treatment, and are vulnerable to adopting paranoid mythologies of alien invasion and sinister hybridization programs, peddled by researchers who tend to weed out those pesky little details in the witnesses’ accounts, that move away from a simplistic interpretation of alien interlopers displaying their superior technology. “You say the shiny beings took you to a place where you met your dead grandfather? Well, that’s cute, but what about their propulsion system?“
If Witness of Another World had been produced by MUFON or TTSA, 80% of Juan’s testimony would have ended up on the cutting floor; and possibly 30% if it had been produced by a New Age group bent on convincing us that our ‘space brothers’ are waiting to welcome us to the galactic federation. Instead of following the script of the true believers or the naysayers, WoAW reminds us that such profound experiences are as old as humanity itself, by turning to the wisdom of Juan’s indigenous roots: the Guarani elders and Amazonian shamans for which contact with entities from other realms is as commonplace as fishing in the river that gives them sustenance –Terrence McKenna would have wholeheartedly approved. Their loving embrace of Juan as one of their own and their attempts to help him integrate his experiences in a positive way is reminiscent of Black Elk Speaks, when another indigenous boy was tormented by harrowing visions, and his whole tribe understood his dreams were a sign that the child was being called to become a shaman –a bridge between worlds.
The film shows Dr. Néstor Berlanda employing hypnosis to treat Juan and allegedly retrieve new tidbits of information of what happened that fateful morning of 1978, something that would make the critics of David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins cringe –me being one of them. On a recent podcast interview Greg Bishop and I asked director Alan Stivelman about this, and he was well aware about the dangers of improper use of hypnotic regression, but assured us that not only Dr. Nestor is a professional psychiatrist and a licensed hypnotherapist, but also that the technique he employed with Juan was different than the one traditionally used with abductees. Skeptics might still argue that Berlanda’s long-time interest in UFOs compromises his objectivity, but on the other hand the film is clear to show he has been treating Juan for many years and is genuinely concerned for his welfare; let’s also not forget the majority of Juan’s memories of the event were present on his waking state of consciousness, and were not retrieved using hypnosis.
Witness of Another World is about the closing of circles: not only about Juan reconciling with what happened to him and reconnecting with his ancestry, but the film also shows the illustrious French researcher Jacques Vallee –a ‘heretic’ who always refused to toe the line of mainstream UFOlogy, and one of our favorite authors here at The Daily Grail– reconnecting with Juan, whom he hadn’t seen since he had the chance to visit Argentina in 1980 with his wife Janine, and personally interview the young boy and his parents. Why the elder UFOlogist bothered to revisit this old forgotten case is not only a testament to his investigative thoroughness; but also a sign of kindness and inexhaustible curiosity from a man who, after decades of searching for hidden truths, has yet enough humility to admit the ultimate answer has eluded him. “I’m the only UFO researcher that doesn’t know what UFOs are,” he humorously said in a recent interview. Unlike the most vociferous proponents of extraterrestrial incursions, who seem to believe unlocking this hydra-like riddle is just one metal sample away, Monsieur Vallee is only willing to affirm this: there is a higher level, and it is sometimes accessible to human consciousness.
Thus, instead of obsessing with trivial feuds about military programs and secret hangars filled with Element 115-fueled flying saucers, Witness of Another World remind us that it is in the human part of the UFO equation that we should be paying attention to; because any John Doe or Juan Pérez walking down the street could have once had an encounter with something so incomprehensible it escapes all conventional explanation; something so defying to our accepted models of Nature that anyone who is touched by it turns into an instant outcast; something so profound and transformative that ordinary people can become conduits with a bigger Reality.
That ‘something’ is, in the words of Stivelman, “the archetypal modern image of the Sacred” we now commonly refer to as the UFO.
“You are all distracted,” Plutarco the Guaraní elder tells the camera to remind us that, with this phenomenon as with anything else that’s important in life, we often miss the forest for the trees. With its intimist approach, the gorgeous photography of the rugged Argentinian landscape, and beautiful music combined with Native chants which made me shed a tear more than once, Witness of Another World invites us to look for the answers to the bigger questions –Who are we? Why are we here for? Are we alone?– within each and everyone of us.
This is without a doubt the best UFO documentary I have ever seen. Here’s hoping it will invite more people to reevaluate their preconceptions, and push them to formulate new questions.
You can also listen here to the Radio Misterioso episode in which Greg Bishop and I interviewed director Alan Stivelman. The conversation covered many topics, including a few synchronicities that I experienced right after I watched the documentary –which I should probably cover in a future article. Alan also shared with us many things that were not covered in WoAW, and mentioned some exciting news about his next project, so I highly recommend you give this episode a listen *after* you watch the film 🙂