This article is part of the Motherboard Guide to Cinema , a semi-regular column exploring foreign and obscure speculative films.
Christo Roppolo was eight years old when he was contacted by aliens for the first time.
He was at home with his younger brother when a creature that looked like Bullwinkle emerged from a glowing ambulance and pressed itself against the window of his bedroom. When he regained consciousness, his parents were in the room arguing with one another and his younger brother had smeared soiled diapers all over the living room window, as if in attempt to keep something out.
"[The alien] told me it was going to give me a little bite on the nose, but when I woke up everything would be okay," Roppolo told Motherboard. "For a long time after that, I didn't even want to go to sleep, but as a kid I didn't place too much significance on what had happened. As I got older, I started to realize that it wasn't just a dream."
Today, Roppolo is 57 years old and resides in Monterey, California, an idyllic coastal city about 6 hours north of Los Angeles. Although thousands of miles and five decades separate Roppolo from his childhood home in the suburbs of Cleveland, the extraterrestrial encounters never stopped. But instead of freaking out that the aliens were trying to contact him, Roppolo did what any filmmaker would do—he grabbed his video camera and started shooting his encounters.
When Roppolo reached out to Justin Gaar, a filmmaker newly arrived in Los Angeles, he had dozens of hours of UFO footage he had filmed around Monterey. Roppolo was trying to make a movie out of this footage, but was dissatisfied with the cut that had been given to him by his previous editor. He found Gaar through the friend of a friend who worked as a sales rep at the company from which Roppolo would order synthesizers to make his otherworldly electronica music.
"I honestly watched maybe an hour's worth [of Roppolo's footage] and was like what is this?" Garr told Motherboard. "It's really just hours and hours of him going 'what the fuck is that fucking shit?' and pointing at blinking dots in the sky. My mind wasn't entirely open to what it was."
Garr told Roppolo he didn't see anything in the footage and made some suggestions for how he could improve his filmmaking, but didn't really anticipate getting involved in the project. Yet as Garr continued to received new footage from Roppolo, some of it featuring himself, he was eventually persuaded to meet with Roppolo in Los Angeles to discuss his UFO sightings.
It's their experiences together that make up the footage of Gaar's latest film, Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs, which was released on Tuesday.
"We went to dinner and the whole time [Roppolo] is looking up at the sky for stuff," said Garr. "He'd keep talking about UFOs and aliens as if they're right there with us in the room. The he told me about his family and I knew there was a narrative here."
Roppolo's troubled past really began when his dad was killed in a drunk driving accident while Roppolo was working his way through culinary school. His father was the only person Roppolo ever felt close to in his family and was the person who had originally sparked his passion for filmmaking when he took Roppolo to see the Godfather in theatres.
"He'd keep talking about UFOs and aliens as if they're right there with us in the room. The he told me about his family and I knew there was a narrative here."
After the accident, Roppolo and his brother came into a significant sum of money as a result of the settlement. His brother squandered it on land in the American south and soon went bankrupt. Roppolo spent a portion of his money on filmmaking equipment and with $10,000 produced his first major film, a remake of the classic 1964 gore film, The Flesh Eaters.
The film was decently well received, but shortly after its release Roppolo learned that his brother had stolen $129,000 from his bank account and disappeared. Amazingly, this would soon turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg on Roppolo's downward slide.
After a series of increasingly tragic events, Roppolo's life was a mere fragment of what it had been only a decade before—and that's when the UFOs really started showing themselves to him.
"[The frequency of their appearances] depends on whether or not I'm signaling them," Roppolo explained. "That's something I just started doing after studying the footage I had on camera and saw [the UFOs] were blinking at each other. If you signal them with prime numbers and do it in sets of three, they'll show up."
Yet for Gaar, there seemed to be a different sort of connection between the sightings.
"Whenever [Roppolo] was having emotional trauma in his life, it was always reflected in his ability to find the UFOs," Gaar said. "I sort of hypothesized that maybe some of this is psychological, but then also I don't know what the fuck that stuff is that he's videotaping. Some of it you can immediately write off and some of it is really hard to reason through."
Although Gaar was only able to find breaks from work to visit Roppolo on occasion during the two years it took to film Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs, he was still treated to a few UFO sightings himself. The strangest sighting, which is detailed in the film, is still inexplicable to Gaar and he has little interest in trying to get to the bottom of it.
"I didn't end up pursuing this, but I had a theory about a couple of the sightings," said Gaar. "There are military installations near [Roppolo] and Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks—a pretty secret experimental aviation place—is located only so far south of Monterey. So I was going to get kind of scientific with it, but decided not to. The film was never about that."
After everything is said and done, Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs is a documentary that is less about unidentified flying objects than the man who spends his nights looking up at the cosmos. Remarkable for the depth of its comedy and tragedy, it is one of the most poignant documentaries to be released this year. Although Gaar remains a skeptic about UFOs and leaves the legitimacy of the sightings up to the viewer to decide, for Roppolo there was never an option not to believe.
"Until the last breath of my life I will be making sure that people know this is no bullshit," Roppolo said. "From the bottom of my heart: it's all real."
Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs is available on DVD and iTunes on Tuesday, December 6.
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