I have seen a lot of UFO documentaries, and after a while, they start to get boring. They tend to tell the same old stories, or promote some snake-oil-selling UFO "expert." Perhaps the biggest issue I take with UFO documentaries is that they never focus on what actually matters: the people at the center of the frenzy, and the trauma they experience.
By this measure, Alan Stivelman’s film Witness of Another World is the best documentary on the subject that I have ever seen.
Witness of Another World tells the story of Juan Pérez, a lonely gaucho who, as a young boy, allegedly had an encounter with an anomalous aerial vehicle and the strange entities inside. In the 1970s, this incident made headline news in South America and, as the documentary shows, very much ruined Pérez’s life. The film dives into Pérez’s life 40 years later. Living alone, Pérez is still haunted by his alleged encounter.
“In the beginning, I proposed to make this film in order to decode the mystery behind the UFO phenomenon,” said Stivelman. “This mission was overshadowed by the acute sadness that Juan brought with him and the desire to understand why he had to have lived through that supernatural experience that marked him for the rest of his life.”
UFO documentaries usually make the same mistake: they try to "prove" that UFOs are real, or that they are alien, or interdimensional, or paranormal, or something else. They all inevitably fail. Stivelman’s Witness of Another World is successful because it really isn’t about UFOs, but about the people who have alleged encounters with them.
Yes, it is a movie about an alleged UFO encounter from 1978, but the UFO is really just a MacGuffin. Pérez is the real story here, and the conflicts he has with other people are really what the film is about. Watching Pérez break down on camera is one of the film's most powerful moments. It is jarring and painful—a close up shot of his face, lined with wrinkles that don’t seem to match his boyish bravado in the previous scenes.
“It was there, as a filmmaker, that I had to make a crucial decision for the rest of the shooting. To continue with the investigation of the UFO phenomenon, to stay only in the phenomenological aspect, or to attend to Juan, to his suffering, and to look for a way to help him,” Stivelman said.
“It's deep, emotional, and filmed in a way that fully encompasses what the abduction experience must've felt like. The film's also shot more like a feature than a documentary with beautiful reenactments. This really set the title apart from the rest in the genre and why 1091 picked it for distribution,” said Vice President of Paranormal Content Jim Martin.
Apart from Pérez and Stivelman, the film also features computer scientist and author Jacques Vallée, a venerated figure within UFO and paranormal circles. Vallée interviewed Pérez when he was a boy, and has since held a firm conviction that the young gaucho had an encounter with a non-human intelligence.
“This film does not attempt to reveal the UFO mystery but to lead the audience by the hand to walk beside it, to perceive it with their own consciousness and to draw their own conclusions,” Stivelman explained.
The fundamental reason as to why the film works is that you don’t need to believe any of it. No one can truly confirm Pérez’s story. What the film portrays is a man clearly hurt by a traumatic event, who is emotionally and socially removed from his peers and family, simply because he nor they can cope. It shines a light into trauma itself.
UFOs aside, the audience watches a man search, not for validation, but for healing. It is a very human story.
Witness of Another World will be available worldwide on Vimeo and Amazon Prime on October 22nd.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.